It has been nearly 20 years since Mike Tyson, now 47, fought his most violent -- and therefore memorable -- bouts. He didn’t wear a robe or socks when he entered the ring — all he wore was a mean face that practically said, “I can kill you with one punch.”
Tyson’s life outside the ring has been equally memorable and equally violent, and he has spared few details in his new autobiography Undisputed Truth.
Tyson’s mother was an alcoholic who shuttled him from home to home in one of Brooklyn’s bleakest neighborhoods, Brownsville. He thought himself lucky if the roof over his head had heat and hot water.
In an unguarded moment, Tyson confesses of his mother, “I wish I knew what to say to her to make her like me. I was never a good person.”
By age 7, Tyson had stopped attending classes, slipping into school only for the free meals. A savvy pickpocket by age 9, he was on the fast track to becoming a career thief, breaking into neighborhood apartments and walking out with cash, electronics and guns. By the time he was 12, he was arrested 38 times and, just as disturbing, he was illiterate.
“I was a criminal,” Tyson says. “In my neighborhood that made you a good guy — [being] able to steal money on your own without people helping you and take care of yourself.”
Being a neighborhood thief didn’t protect Tyson from being bullied mercilessly by older kids. He was small for his age, spoke with a lisp and was an easy target — at least on the surface.
“You just never forget that stuff, being helpless. And the only thing I had to do was hit them … I just never in a million years thought about hitting the guy.”
Sent to reformatory school at age 13, Tyson already looked like he does today — all muscles and a discomfiting laser-like focus. His speed and power as a boxer caught the attention of legendary trainer Cus D’Amato. Even though D’Amato knew he had a future heavyweight champ in his corner, he also knew that the neglect and abuse Tyson suffered as a boy could one day destroy him.
D’Amato told Tyson, “If you don’t face your demons, they’ll haunt you til the day you die.”
Tyson himself might say D’Amato was right when Tyson blew through the $400 million fortune he earned as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
“A lot of people had their hand in the cookie jar. I was getting sued for a lot of things. I was getting fined for a lot of stuff.”
Perhaps most costly of all was Tyson’s weakness for women.
“I had all these fake girlfriends. I probably had 45 girlfriends when I was married.”
Regarding Tyson’s first wife, Robin Givens, Tyson today alleges that Givens said she was pregnant only to get Tyson to marry her.
“She was never pregnant by me,” Tyson claims.
Convicted of raping a contestant for Miss Black America, Desiree Washington, some would think 1992 was the year Tyson hit rock bottom. He disagrees. Prison — far from being hellish — became a place where Tyson says he could be “free.”
“I was pretty much adapted to being there,” Tyson reasons. “All my life I’ve been institutionalized … I knew how to conduct myself in these places.”
Scarier for Tyson was the free world and the stresses of life he never learned to cope with. Though his post-incarceration comeback was successful — he won the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles in 1996 — the demons D’Amato warned about would come back to haunt Tyson in the form of alcoholism and depression.
His penchant for drinking returned 2-and-a-half months ago. “Hopefully, I won’t have to do that again. Before then, it was 4 years.”
It was well known that Tyson was prescribed anti-psychotics Thorazine and lithium to control his wild behavior outside the ring.
“I don’t take anything now,” Tyson says. “My wife got me off that stuff … I was 380 pounds and I had the zombie swagger.
“I grasped myself before I hit rock bottom. I had a few more overdoses in me. I had a few more unprotected sexes in me.”
Still, you probably won’t find Tyson resting at home with a quiet book. His one-man show found its way to Broadway last year and, like any engaging celebrity, he can still be found partying.
“I’m pretty much El Schmucko and I just wanna have fun and enjoy my life before I die.”
So what will Mike Tyson put on his tombstone when that day comes?
“I don’t want anything on my tombstone. I think dead people take up too much space.”