EXCLUSIVE: UK production company Mad As Birds – which has credits including the Jackie Weaver and Diane Keaton comedy Poms and Gerard Butler mystery-thriller The Vanishing – has secured rights to Shaun Assael’s non-fiction book The Murder Of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, And Heavyweights, about the investigation into the mysterious death of the champion boxer.
Sonny Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in 1962 to become heavyweight world champion. He successfully defended his title before losing a shock bout to underdog Muhammad Ali in 1964. A rematch with Ali in 1965, which saw Liston suffer a first-round knockout, was plagued by allegations of match-fixing. The Ring magazine still ranks Liston as the tenth greatest heavyweight of all time
Liston was found dead in his home on January 5, 1971, from an apparent heroin overdose. The book delves into the last year of his life, looking at how Liston’s passing hovered over Las Vegas and the sporting world, leaving questions about his ties to powerful promoters, mob kingpins, and drug lords.
Mad As Birds’ Celyn Jones (The Vanishing) will script the project. Ade Shannon, Sean Marley and Andy Evans will produce for the company. Trevor Beattie (Moon) will act as an executive producer, having held the same position on Mad As Bird’s upcoming Six Minutes To Minute. Author Assael will also serve as an exec producer.
“[Sonny Liston] was one of the most indelible figures in sports and has long deserved a shot at the big screen. I can’t wait to see what they do with the story,” commented Assael.
“[Liston’s] epitaph reads – Charles ‘“Sonny” Liston ‘A Man’ … So, I think I’ll start there. Shaun wrote a fantastic book and I’m honoured to contend with this material,” added Jones.
“As a lifelong boxing fan (and Muhammad Ali aficionado), I jumped at the chance to help put Sonny Liston’s life story on film. To go from the most feared man on the planet to a lost, forgotten soul is quite the journey,” said Beattie.
Poms was released in the U.S. by STX Entertainment in May, grossing $13M. Next up for Mad As Birds is period thriller Six Minutes To Midnight, with Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Eddie Izzard, which was recently completed.
Shaun Assael is repped by Michelle Weiner and Katie Zwick at CAA, and Gary Morris at The David Black Agency.
Celyn Jones is repped by APA, Thruline Entertainment, and Hamilton Hodell.