Mike Tyson: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

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When Mike Tyson enters a room, people take notice. Voices drop to a whisper, an electric energy zips through the air and bystanders clamor to get a better look at the five-foot-ten, 240-pound Iron Mike. It’s a gloomy day in mid-December; the kind of bone-chilling weather that triggers ringing ears and cracked lips, and even Tyson is feeling the effects. “I’d like to moisturize,” he says sheepishly, holding out his hands. After delicately massaging a dollop of lotion into his gigantic claws, he’s ready to get down to business.


Perched on a windowsill in the presidential suite of The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, which overlooks the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge, Tyson’s toothy smile disappears as he stares directly into the camera lens as if he’s looking down the barrel of a gun. “New York has changed so tremendously,” he says while admiring the view. “It’s like Big Brother is watching—there are cameras all over the place now.” A security precaution that definitely didn’t exist in Tyson’s childhood neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn in the late ‘70s. If there had been, maybe Tyson wouldn’t have been arrested 38 times by his 12th birthday. And maybe he wouldn’t have found an outlet in boxing. And maybe, just maybe, at the tender age of 20, he wouldn’t have become the youngest boxer ever to win the WBC, WBA, and IBF heavyweight titles and go on to earn more than $300 million throughout his career. But all of those things did happen. And Tyson, despite his trials and tribulations, remains forever grateful.

“Sky is the limit,” he exclaims. “I want to continue to prosper in society and grow at a rapid pace.” Quite an understatement for a man that’s released an autobiography, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, plus a one-man show and a Spike Lee-directed HBO special of the same name. “My wife [Lakiha “Kiki” Spicer] wrote the show,” he states proudly. “I gave her a hand in explaining my life to her, but she did 95 percent of the writing. It’s very challenging working with my wife, but we’re a team.” Today, the pair continues to work side by side as Tyson travels around the country performing his 90-minute show in front of a live audience. During every performance, Spicer stands backstage holding a microphone with a direct feed into Tyson’s earpiece, which allows her to reel him in when he begins to comically ad-lib. “I love being on the stage. It’s like oxygen to me,” he reveals. “I’m only nervous when I’m not on stage.”

Tyson (age 17) with his boxing trainer and mentor, Cus D’Amato
Tyson (age 17) with his boxing trainer and mentor, Cus D’Amato

Despite the raw, and often painful subject matter of Undisputed Truth, Tyson’s anecdotes often elicit fits of laughter from the audience, a reaction neither he nor his wife ever expected. “We wanted it to be a drama, suspense-type of one-man show, but it turned out to be a comedy because people didn’t stop laughing! Sometimes I have to stop the show because the audience keeps laughing and talking. I can’t hear myself,” he explains. Though most performers would kill for that sort of positive reaction, it only frustrates Tyson. “Those are not my best shows,” he admits. “For me personally, my best shows are when they listen to me. I think it’s disastrous when they applaud and laugh while I’m trying to tell another story. They seem to love it, but it’s just disastrous for me. I want them to hear me.”

One of the show’s more emotional moments is when Tyson discusses the tragic death of his daughter, Exodus, who passed away at the age of four in 2009. With tears in his eyes, he recounts the traumatizing phone call he received with news of her accident, a moment in time that still haunts him to this day. When asked if he thinks his daughter would be proud of the man he’s become today, Tyson pauses, carefully choosing his words. “My kids are not going to grow up without a father,” he asserts. “I don’t know who is proud of me or what kind of father I am, but I know they’re going to be with their father until their father dies. They’re not going to stop seeing their father because they move out of the house.”


It’s clear that Tyson has come a long way from the tough streets of Brooklyn. He’s clean, sober, and by all accounts, has completely turned his life around. But he’s hesitant to sing his own praises. “You never conquer your demons. They’re always here that’s why they’re called demons,” he says in a singsong voice, a phrase it sounds like he’s repeated time and time again in front of the mirror. “Demons don’t disappear. It’s like a disease. It’s a constant struggle with my demons. I never let myself believe that they’re gone. I never leave myself venerable. I know I cannot be around certain people and I know I can never take a drink.”

Ten years ago if someone told Tyson that his future would consist of working ten-hour days and shuttling his kids between school and Chuck E. Cheese’s, he probably would have laughed—and then punched something. But that’s his reality, and one that he couldn’t be happier about. “I don’t have much downtime,” he confesses. “I’m 47 and my wife is 37, and we don’t have much time. Even though we’re very young, and even if we lived another 60 years, we still wouldn’t have enough time. We don’t have time to have downtime.”

But the one thing he does have is stories—dozens of them. Ranging from the obscene to the insane to the truly unbelievable. And yes, fans of The Hangover can rejoice, he really did have a pet tiger. “I had a fight in Philadelphia and left my tiger in the hotel when I went to fight. When I came back, the hotel room was demolished! Everything was shredded. She must have freaked out being alone in there and just demolished everything. She destroyed the table and tore the couches, pillows and bed to shreds. There was crap everywhere,” he laughs. “They didn’t charge me anything. I thought they would call the cops on me. She really demolished that place.”


Outlandish antics aside, boxing has also allowed Tyson the opportunity to develop friendships with some of the world’s most influential individuals, including Nelson Mandela. “When he came to America he wanted to meet me, so I met him. He was a very humble and quiet man,” Tyson explains. “While he was incarcerated, his wife and brother came to one of my fights. I believe Oprah Winfrey was with them. They said, ‘Mr. Mandela would like to have a pair of the gloves that you wore, so I shined my gloves and gave them to his daughter to give to him.”

With a highly successful boxing career, a book, a play, a HBO special, and two Hollywood blockbusters under his belt, the question remains: is there anything that Mike Tyson hasn’t done? “I want to do a musical,” he declares. “I’m not saying I have the greatest voice, but it doesn’t take the greatest voice to have the greatest musical… you just have to sing. I sang in The Hangover Part II.” In fact, Tyson’s rendition of “One Night in Bangkok” has become so popular with his fans that he’s often asked to perform it live. “They want me to do it at Bar Mitzvahs. They want me to do it all over the place,” he says with disbelief. “Sometimes I think that they’re making fun of me, but no, I think it’s just a cult classic and they want to see me do it personally.”

Tyson may have made a name for himself through his devastating blows in the boxing ring, but he’s definitely taken to performing like a fish to water. “Boxing is the entertainment industry. I’m just born to do this stuff,” he proclaims. “This is what I really want to do. I want to do this more than I want money.”

When Tyson decided to take the plunge and translate his life to the stage, he turned to his friend of more than 20 years, Emmy Award- winning director Spike Lee. Despite their long-standing friendship, Tyson says he saw a completely different side of Lee while working with him. “He’s a serious businessman. He’s really pushy and he tries to elicit the best out of you,” he reveals. “He pushed me to bring out my best work.” Initially, the show featured a rock band, a vocalist and a classical piano player, but Lee decided to change the structure and keep the focus solely on Tyson. “I used to play on them so I never felt lonely on the stage,” he admits. “But we got rid of all of those people and he put me on the stage by myself, which allowed me to become extremely vulnerable to the people in the audience. I had to deal with that from a whole different dynamic of emotions.” The HBO special is coming to DVD on Feb. 11.
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