trouble comprehending all that talk about heroin or murder. "If he was
killed, I don't know who would do it," she says. "If he was doing
drugs, he didn't act like he was drugged. Sonny wasn't on dope. He had high
blood pressure, and he had been out drinking in late December. As far as I'm
concerned, he had a heart attack. Case closed."
There is no
persuasive explanation of how Liston died, so the speculation continues,
perhaps to last forever.
Liston is buried
in Paradise Memorial Gardens, in Las Vegas, directly under the flight path for
planes approaching McCarran International Airport. The brass plate on the grave
is tarnished now, but the epitaph is clear under his name and the years of his
life. It reads simply: A MAN. Twenty years ago Father Murphy flew in from
Denver to give the eulogy, then went home-and wept for an hour before he could
compose himself enough to tell Father Kelly about the funeral. "They had
the funeral procession down the Strip," Murphy said. "Can you imagine
that? People came out of the hotels to watch him pass. They stopped everything.
They used him all his life. They were still using him on the way to the
cemetery. There he was, another Las Vegas show. God help us."
In the end, it
seemed fitting that Liston, after all those years, should finally play to a
friendly crowd on the way to his own burial—with a police escort, the most
ironic touch of all.
remained in Las Vegas for nine years after Sonny died—she was a casino
hostess—then returned to St. Louis, where she had met Sonny after his parole,
when he was working in a munitions factory. She has never remarried, and today
works as a medical technician. "He was a great guy, great with me, great
with kids, a gentle man," says Geraldine.
gone from Las Vegas, few visit Sonny's grave anymore. Every couple of minutes a
plane roars over, shaking the earth and rattling the broken plastic flowers
that someone placed in the metal urn atop his headstone. "Every once in a
while someone comes by and asks to see where he's buried," says a cemetery
worker. "But not many anymore. Not often."