Mike Tyson trades fists of fury for words of wisdom
The man once feared as Iron Mike is still knocking them out, but not inside the boxing ring. Tyson is a hit with his one-man show that comes to Miami on Tuesday, and when he’s not on stage, The Baddest Man on the Planet only wants to be at home wit
04/14/2013 12:01 AM
04/14/2013 12:23 AM
Mike Tyson has been drinking. At a party. With a young lady.
Undoubtedly another implosion by Kid Dynamite, whose bald, tattooed head is connected by an infamously short fuse to his fists.
But wait. Discard that outdated assumption.
Tyson has been sipping tea with his 4-year-old daughter Milan. Those jackhammer hands, once a terror to opponents and a menace to society, hold the cup and saucer with dainty tenderness, right pinky extended.
“She says, ‘You want to play with me, Daddy?’ ” Tyson said. “And then she serves me tea and fake food from her Betty Crocker kitchen. She’s adorable.”
Tyson crushes his r’s with his Brooklyn accent. Diction was never a strength of the thug from the mean streets who expressed himself most eruditely in the boxing ring.
But Tyson can role-play with the best. He’s had so many parts: Juvenile delinquent; youngest universal heavyweight champ in history; cocaine addict; convicted rapist; ear-biting savage; $400 million-fortune-wasting has-been and misunderstood human being.
A bad actor, he was. At age 46, he has become quite a good one, even if he is portraying himself in his one-man show, Undisputed Truth , which makes its Miami stop on a nationwide tour at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
The show is all Tyson, alone on stage for 100minutes, drawing laughs and tears from the audience as he talks about his 30 arrests by age 13, his prostitute mother, his absent father, the sister who raised him, trainer Cus D’Amato, first wife Robin Givens, huckster Don King, accuser Desiree Washington, Evander Holyfield, Buster Douglas, the accidental death of his daughter Exodus, drug and alcohol highs, prison lows, and his continuing fight for inner peace.
As he shadow boxes through the monologue, trying to connect, he’s more vulnerable than he was bare-chested inside the ropes.
“The big difference is I don’t go to the hospital after a performance,” Tyson said from his home in a Las Vegas suburb.
Tyson co-wrote the script with wife Kiki, and director Spike Lee brought it to Broadway last summer. Tyson originally wanted to call it “Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits.”
“I’m not out there to win sympathy,” Tyson said. “I’m telling stories, and people can interpret them the way they want. I’m trying to entertain. I want to evoke powerful emotions. If I hear someone say, ‘Man, he was so gripping and it went by so fast!’ I feel gratified.”
The show evolves as he hones his new craft, Tyson said. Tommy Hearns was in the Detroit audience last week. Maybe Miami boxing people will attend Tuesday.
But Tyson keeps his distance from the sport that made him and broke him. He watches occasional fights in Las Vegas but doesn’t do the decadent parties that once got him a case of gonorrhea. Doesn’t follow the heavyweight division sorely lacking a star like he was a quarter century ago.
He’s a family man now. He and Kiki have two children, Milan and Morocco, 2. He is the father of seven altogether. His mother-in-law lives down the block. He’s a vegan and has dropped his weight from 360 pounds to 220. He likes kung-fu movies, classic cartoons and documentaries. He runs a charitable foundation, Mike Tyson Cares. Still a night owl, he works out in the exercise room or reads until the wee hours. Among the books on his nightstand: The New History of the World , King Harald’s Saga , The Gangs of New York , Gangsters and Gold Diggers and biographies of Jack Dempsey, Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Gans.
“We’re the most boring people on earth!” Kiki said. “There’s a film crew here from Fox and they’re looking for stuff for us to do, but we don’t do anything!
“Mike’s not interested in that crazy, wild life anymore. I mean, I make him grilled artichokes. We order Indian food twice a week. We have fun with the kids. He rehearses. I handle business calls. We want to go see Boyz II Men for a date night. But basically, Mike doesn’t leave the house.”
Tyson remains devoted to his pigeons. He keeps 200 in mobile coops that he wheels outside each day. He has loved pigeons since he was a shy, fat boy with a lisp in Brownsville, and he won his first fight when a bully ripped the head off of one of his birds.
He has gotten rid of the lions and tigers that used to roam among the statues and swim in the pools at his various estates — which accounted for some of the millions he might as well have tossed into a bonfire.
“No more exotic pets,” Kiki said. “No more girlfriends.”
No more hangers-on. No more champagne, cognac and coke binges.
“I’m domesticated,” said Tyson, who mixes $20 words he learned studying the classics in his cell with coarse double negatives in his choirboy voice.
Reconciling the soft and beastly sides of Tyson is like an unsatisfactory split decision. Has he really vanquished the self-loathing he transferred onto the faces and torsos of opponents with a ferocity that caused 44 knockouts in his 50-6 career record? How can the boxer who said of Lennox Lewis “I want to eat his children” sing nursery rhymes to his own?
The fundamental question raised by his show centers on man’s capacity for metamorphosis.
‘I’m just a survivor’
“I don’t know anything about change because I’m just a survivor,” Tyson said. “When people want to accomplish goals, maybe that’s change. When I was fighting I had to be that guy — number one, feared, invincible. In order to be this guy today, I have to concentrate on different goals.
“I’ve been in love before, but I was never committed to anybody. Now I have a responsibility as a husband, father, community leader.”
Tyson has been clean and sober since the 2009 strangulation death of 4-year-old daughter Exodus in a treadmill accident at her mother’s house.
“Something clicked and he said, ‘I can’t die of an overdose, I have to take care of my kids,’ ” Kiki said.
She used to fear a relapse when he would get antsy every couple of weeks. It’s still possible, she said. But through rehab and routine, Tyson has found stability.
“Without my support system I’d be another black guy from New York in the penal system,” he said, pronouncing penal as “penile” — an understandable Freudian slip given his history.
Tyson and his third wife, Lakiha “Kiki” Spicer, 36, have been friends for 20 years. Her stepfather, a Muslim imam and fight fan, introduced them, “and Mike was a perfect gentleman; I didn’t meet him shaking my butt in a club.” They tried having relationships when she was in her 20s but each time was a disaster because of his philandering and emotional hang-ups.
“He was a big spoiled kid whose idea of solving a problem was to throw money at it and hop on a flight,” Kiki said. “He had gone from a neglected, insecure child to a celebrity constantly told of his magnificence. That’s a dangerous combination — an addict personality. It took me awhile to understand the triggers that set him off. I’d ask him to take out the trash, and he thought he was worthless again.”
Kiki served sixth months in prison in 2008 and her mother also was convicted for being on the payroll at her stepfather’s Muslim school, which obtained scam loans and city contracts in Philadelphia. Shamsud-din Ali, aka Clarence “Cutty” Fowler when he was in jail in the 1970s for a murder conviction that was overturned, is serving a seven-year sentence on the racketeering charges.
“Mike and I hit bottom and stood by each other,” Kiki said.
In the show, Tyson apologizes to Holyfield — despite the head butts that prompted the biting in their 1997 bout, he says — but is adamant that Miss Black America contestant Washington consented to sex.
“Mike beats himself up more than anyone else,” Kiki said. “The real Mike — not the tabloid Mike — is sincere, witty, intelligent, giving, intense. He’s never had a platform to showcase those layers.”
No excuses, Tyson told Kiki as they reworked the script last autumn to add more grit and humor. The prosecutor in the 1992 rape case approached Tyson after the San Francisco show to say how much he respected Tyson’s performance.
“I carried a lot of shame for being poor,” Tyson said. “I blamed my father and mother so I could feel sorry for myself. I blamed being underprivileged so I could be an underachiever.”
Retired from the fight game, he has no need to marshal violent impulses. But he always has had a flair for introspective drama. He likes acting. He was in Cannes, France, for the showing of James Toback’s dark 2008 documentary Tyson . He had cameos in The Hangover and The Hangover: Part II and played a death row inmate on Law & and Order: SVU . His creation of Undisputed Truth was inspired by A Bronx Tale , in which Chazz Palminteri recounted how he got involved with the Mafia as a kid.
Tyson is judged now by theater critics, who have given mostly positive reviews. Although ticket sales lagged in a couple of cities, people are still fascinated to see Tyson under the lights, baring his soul, delivering hooks — only without the blood.
He’s not unlike Jake LaMotta played by Robert De Niro impersonating Marlon Brando in Raging Bull : “I coulda been a contenda instead of a bum, which is what I am.”
Of the numerous boxers turned bums, Tyson was a prime candidate. He could have wound up like Sonny Liston, found dead in his bedroom with a heroin syringe nearby. Or Trevor Berbick, beaten to death with a steel pipe. Or his sport, reeling like a tomato can socked in the jaw.
The self-described “piece of garbage from the Brooklyn sewer system, an animal, a pig, a pathetic case” who so often predicted a bad end for himself is still standing, still punching.
He’s the ghetto kid grown up to perform his version of Laurence Olivier’s Macbeth , tortured by his own barbarism. Well, not quite. Olivier didn’t have a Maori warrior tattoo on his face.
“I think it’s sexy,” Kiki said. “An ingenious trademark!”
Tyson downplays any art, any message in his tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but when pressed he admits he does want it to signify something.
“Never lay down without a fight,” he said. “Cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, depression, bankruptcy, incarceration. Never give up.”
Iron Mike may not be dead, but he’s found love and a home. He’s using his fists to play peekaboo with the little boy he never got to be.
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