How Mike Tyson’s insane world has helped him reclaim his sanity

By 11.11.13

When I’ve told friends and family that I had the chance to interview Mike Tyson, the response is fairly uniform: “Was that scary? How weird was he?” For better or worse, that’s the Mike Tyson people think of. But it’s not the one you see when you speak with the man himself.

After three decades in the spotlight, you may think you know Mike Tyson. But with his one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth airing on HBO this Saturday and a new autobiography of the same name hitting stores this week, Mike Tyson is out to show that he’s an entirely different animal altogether.

mike tyson


I had the chance to speak with Tyson at the HBO Building to promote the conversion of his one-man show into an HBO special directed by Spike Lee.

When you sit across from Mike Tyson, you don’t see the Baddest Man on the Planet, a man who rose to prominence in the boxing ring one violent knockout at a time. You don’t see the larger than life, unhinged version that brought Tyson back to the limelight in The Hangover either.

You see a man at peace. A calm, thoughtful man who seems more comfortable snacking on bits of granola than he would declaring he’s going to “eat the children” of one-time opponent Lennox Lewis.

The disconnect between what you think you know and what’s actually in front of you is jarring.

It’s even more prominent when you consider the hour-and-a-half long special that takes a look at Tyson’s exceedingly challenging upbringing and equally challenging rise and fall as a titan of the boxing ring.

The show itself belies the content; in Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, Tyson discusses tough topics like his crime spree of an upbringing in Brooklyn, his tortured relationship with his mother, and his time spent in jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting Desiree Washington at the height of his fame.

But while these topics pack the heft that you’d expect, Tyson discusses them in some sort of hybrid of stand-up comedy, an AA meeting, and an evangelist’s speech. It’s both enrapturing and confusing to see a roller coaster of a life transformed into a Las Vegas-born stage show dressed similar to Penn and Teller making a cow disappear.

That’s Tyson’s life in a nutshell; when we talked about a time in which Tyson ballooned up to 380 pounds and knocked himself into a diabetic coma daily, Tyson came alive, recognizing the absurdity of how he lived.

“[Every day I’d have] two packs of Golden Oreos, I had my two Blizzards — chocolate cookies and cream Blizzards – and after that I’d get the 12-pack ice cream sandwich packs,” Tyson said with a smile. “And I’d eat one of [the packs] before I even bought them.”

Tyson doesn’t run from the insanity that his existence has welcomed and he seems well aware that it’s what people expect of him. And while many in his life, including wife Kiki Tyson whom he frequently credits for his turnaround, feared for him, Tyson never feared for himself.

Mike Tyson talks about if he could beat Floyd Mayweather
and if there’s anyone, dead or alive, he’s truly afraid of.

“I can’t imagine anything bad happening to me,” Tyson said about the time before Kiki helped him clean up. “Like I could say I was gonna die, [but] I wanted to get on the straight and narrow.”

It’s not all E: True Hollywood Story for Tyson. In fact, when he got himself back on track, focusing on a vegan diet, regular workouts, and sober living, he cut his weight down from 380 pounds to a much leaner 220 pounds.

“My particular way of life, I have to be miserable,” Tyson said. “I have to be in pain to succeed.”

The suffering has paid off; in addition to the one-man show, autobiography, and his own fight promotion company called Iron Mike Productions, Tyson is currently filming an animated show for Adult Swim that’s slated to air early next year called Mike Tyson Mysteries in which Mike solves crimes with a talking pigeon.

His existence is simpler these days. He’s not a vegan any more (“I saw a documentary called Fork Over Knives and it explains that being a vegan is a little too extreme and being a red meat eater is too extreme so you have to have a balance.”) and he spends most of his time shopping for his kids or watching Real Housewives, Love and Hip Hop, and The Borges with his wife.

The craziness is gone. When I asked Tyson about some of his famous and relatively insane quotes, he told me he didn’t regret them but he struggled to remember the man he was when he’d spout out threats of eating Lennox Lewis’s children or when he told a man at a pre-fight press conference that he’d “fuck him until he loved him.”

Though he did point out that he could still eat Lennox Lewis’s children as long as they eat vegan, too.

Tyson said about a music-focused venture he undertook that he admits was misguided from the start, “I never wanted to be responsible for other people’s lives.”

Now, Tyson, five years sober and with a lot to live for, is finally responsible for his own.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth airs on HBO this Saturday, November 16th at 8PM. Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, the autobiography, is released nationally on Tuesday, November 12th.

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