Undisputed Truth: Mike Tyson Talks with RFT

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courtesy of Mike Tyson
  • courtesy of Mike Tyson

Iron Mike Tyson brings his one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, to the Peabody Opera House (14th and Market streets; 314-241-1888; tickets $35 to $350) at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 5, as part of a 36-city tour for the Spike Lee-directed monologue. Producers are billing the show as "a rare, personal look inside the life and mind of one of the most feared men ever to wear the heavyweight crown."

You'll have to judge the rare and personal aspects for yourself, but about the "most-feared heavyweight" there can be no debate.

Born in 1966, Tyson grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, where he started out fighting older kids who made fun of his famously high-pitched voice. Arrested for petty crimes dozens of times by the age of thirteen, he lost his mother at sixteen and was rescued from reform school by a boxing manager. Debuting as "Kid Dynamite," Tyson knocked out his first nineteen opponents, most of them in the first round, and at age twenty was the undisputed world heavyweight champ.

This ushered in the "Iron Mike Tyson" era of superstardom, a celebrity marriage (to actress Robin Givens) and seemingly limitless wealth.

But Tyson found ways to lose it all.

Fearsome first-round knockouts and Nintendo's best-selling Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! game were replaced in the public's consciousness by a rape conviction, a three-year prison stint and a long comeback that went haywire, most famously when the former champ bit chunks out of Evander Holyfield's ears during a bout. More legal problems followed, as well as the infamous quote, "I want to eat your heart, I want to eat your children," directed at boxer Lennox Lewis, whom Tyson attacked and bit during a press conference.

image via miketyson.com
  • image via miketyson.com

Having earned an estimated $300 million over the course of his career, Tyson declared bankruptcy in 2003. By 2005 he was telling the press, "My whole life has been a waste -- I've been a failure."

Yet another arrest -- for DUI and cocaine possession in 2006 -- seemed to find Tyson ready to confront his demons. He entered drug-addiction treatment and began to reform his reputation as "The Baddest Man on the Planet."

In recent years Tyson has led a quieter life, tending his beloved pigeons, making cameos in films such as The Hangover and maintaining sobriety while recovering from the loss of one of his children, four-year-old Exodus, who died in accident after becoming tangled in a treadmill cord in 2009.

Daily RFT caught up earlier this week with Tyson to talk about the show and his life today. (Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Tony D'Souza: A two-hour monologue! Is it going to be heavy, funny or what? Are we going to learn more about who you really are?

Mike Tyson: You can expect to be entertained. You won't look at me as Mike Tyson the boxer. After seeing the show, you will look at me as Mike Tyson the man. You will see that although I have been through a lot I hold no grudges, and if there is anything I want people to take away from this it would be: It's not what you go through in life, it's how you get through it.

This is a whole new act for you. What are your goals and dreams at this stage of your life?

This isn't an act by any means. This is really my life. All I can say is that I grew up. It took me longer to get there than most, I suppose, but it feels good to be here. I like being the responsible man that is good to my wife and kids. My goals are simple now: just to be a decent person and be kind to people. From a professional standpoint, I want to continue challenging myself with roles that seem out of the box for me. I really enjoy acting and hope to expand into producing films under my production company, Tyrannic.

mike_tyson_punch_out_2.jpg

A lot of people in our city are going through tough financial times. You've had your own famous financial downfall. What's your advice on getting through it?

Just focus on what you do have instead of what you don't. Focus on the small blessings and finding happiness in the moment. I realized that money isn't a measure of a complete person. I had millions and was miserable. I live a much simpler life now, and I am much happier. I know being broke is relative.  

I grew up not only watching you be "The Champ" but playing Punch-Out!! every day. What's the legacy of the game to your legend?

You know, I sucked at that game. I'm just grateful it had a successful run. I'm a better gamer now. I like Black Ops.

I know you're in addiction recovery -- I'd love to know the most important things you do to stay sober.

I surround myself with people that live similar lifestyles. I don't put myself in environments that are detrimental to my sobriety. I also realize this is constant work. I know am capable of relapsing at any moment if I lose focus or allow my ego to get in the way. Staying humble is key.

Are you at peace with yourself, Mike? You had the center stage of the world like few others. How do you make life interesting after that?

I don't know if I'd say I am at total peace. I am working towards it. But I am very happy most of the time. I am just grateful to have a good foundation now. I have a great relationship with my wife and children, and that is the most important thing to me now.

I can't imagine what you went through when you lost your child. Was that the hardest moment of your life?

Yes, nothing prepares you for the loss of a child. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about Exodus Sierra.

How different are you now from that man who was "The Champ"?

I don't know. I guess the major difference is I have better life skills. I'm emotionally more intelligent. I have the same thoughts; I just have the growth to not react to them the way I once did. I have a great deal more self-control, patience and understanding.

What's a perfect day for Mike Tyson? Being with my wife and kids at home, watching ID channel.

Is there a single most important life lesson you'd like to pass on to kids who grew up like you did?

Never give up on your dreams. You have to realize every dream has a price and most come with a great deal of sacrifice.

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