Tuesday, October 29, 2013
BY THE time he was 22 years old, Brooklyn born Mike Tyson was a worldwide phenomenon. A pro fighter since the age of 18, he had won his all but two of his first 28 fights by knockout or technical knockout, and in 16 of those fights, he had crushed his opponents in the first round.
When he was 20, he became the youngest heavyweight champion ever, and at 21 was the first to possess the sport's three major belts at once, making him the undisputed champion of the world.
When Tyson knocked out the legendary fighters Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks in 1988, he became the most athletically and culturally electrifying boxer since Muhammad Ali. Yet Tyson's personal life has been a decades long series of spectacular flame outs, detailed in his forthcoming memoir, Undisputed Truth (Blue Rider Press).
'I PUT GUYS IN COMAS'
Tyson was already partying hard and dating both Naomi Campbell and Miss America runner-up Suzette Charles, plus having sex with dozens of women a week when, at 21 years old, he met actor Robin Givens.
It was 1987. He had first seen her on a broadcast of Soul Train and asked his agent to set up a meeting in LA. Givens was waiting with her mother and her publicist.
"I should have known something was up," Tyson writes. "I ... didn't know that Robin and her mother, Ruth, had been on the prowl for a big black celebrity for Robin since she graduated college."
Tyson fell hard, and he couldn't believe this beautiful, sophisticated woman wanted him. He had grown up in abject poverty in Brownsville. He never knew his father, and his mother, who died when he was 16, ran a brothel out of their apartment. His beloved trainer and surrogate father, Cus D'Amato, died two years earlier, in 1985.
Tyson was a high-school dropout with a lisp and a near-lethal case of low self-esteem. "My social skills consisted of putting a guy in a coma," he writes. "So maybe Robin was just what the doctor ordered."
On Feb. 7, 1988, 11 months after their first date, Tyson and Givens were married - only, Tyson writes, because she had told a mutual friend she was pregnant. There was no prenup. He quickly realised he had made a mistake.
"Right away, Ruth started talking about finding a suitable mansion for us to live in," Tyson writes.
While he was attending a close friend's funeral in LA, Tyson got a call from his account executive, who said Givens and her mother - whom Tyson calls "Ruthless" - were in his offices, demanding $5 million to buy an estate in New Jersey. He advised Tyson not to release the funds. "I listened," Tyson writes, "and then told him to give them the money. I was in love."
Not long after, Tyson says, he moved another $10 million into a separate account for Givens and her mother, and not long after, Givens told Tyson she had had a miscarriage. Tyson didn't buy it. "She was supposedly three months pregnant when we got married," he writes. "Now it was June and she hadn't gained a pound, so the next thing I knew she was in bed and claimed she had miscarried our baby."
But that, he says, wasn't her greatest betrayal. The same year they were married, Tyson and Givens sat down with Barbara Walters. It was, Tyson writes, spur of the moment: As the crew was loading up their gear, Givens - who wasn't supposed to be part of Tyson's profile - "pulled Barbara aside and told her that she still didn't have the truth. I guess Robin knew that Barbara would take the bait."
It went down as one of the most bizarre celebrity interviews ever. Tyson, three times the size of his wife, looked like he had been hit by a tranquilliser dart as Givens detailed the horror of their life together. "I think that there is a time when he cannot control his temper, and that is frightening to me," she said. "He shakes, he pushes, he swings ... just recently I have become afraid. I mean very, very much afraid."
Soon after, Givens filed for divorce - "but that didn't stop us from seeing each other," Tyson writes. He'd often go by her house when he was in LA and was stunned to see her pull up one day with a blond man in the passenger seat. It was Brad Pitt.
"You had to see the look on his face," Tyson writes. "He looked like he was ready to receive his last rites. He also looked stoned out of his gourd."
Pitt begged Tyson, "Dude, don't strike me, don't strike me."
Tyson left, and the divorce was finalised on Valentine's Day 1989. He never had any real contact with Givens again.
One year later, Mike Tyson was completely unravelling. He was 30 pounds overweight and had lost all interest in boxing - by his own admission, all he wanted to do was party.
In January 1990, he fought pathetically against Buster Douglas, an opponent he underestimated, and lost his title as heavyweight champion of the world. He was so delusional that he remembers thinking that "I had become so big that God was jealous of me."
By now, the famously crooked boxing promoter Don King had worked his way into Tyson's life, and that same year, Tyson learned that King owed him $2 million. "My assets totalled $15 million," Tyson writes, "but with all my purses I should have had a lot more."
Tyson knew King couldn't be trusted - "Everybody blackballed me once I got involved with him" - but was so self-loathing and self-destructive he kept King on the payroll.
Tyson was also undermining his training regimen. "I was out of control," he writes, "drinking, gorging on food, f- -king women." His friends were tasked with rounding up girls for orgies. Tyson's promiscuity caught up with him in July 1991, when a beauty-pageant contestant named Desiree Washington accused him of raping her in a hotel room in Indianapolis.
Tyson has always maintained the sex was consensual, but in February 1992, he was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in prison. He figured he'd be out in three, and he was right.
"It was hard to maintain my ¬humanity in a place like that," he writes. "I saw things that I couldn't understand one human being doing to another. I watched people get cut fighting over a cigarette. Somebody might throw some gasoline in another man's cell and try to light it and burn him up. Or somebody would grab a lady guard and throw her in the bathroom and rape her."
He began asking to be placed in "the hole" - solitary confinement, locked up 23 hours a day, the light always on - just for some peace of mind. He read voraciously: Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Shakespeare. He converted to ¬Islam and did a jailhouse interview with Larry King.
John F. Kennedy Jr. flew in for a visit. Kennedy was a fan, and there were reports he wanted a post-jailhouse interview with ¬Tyson for his floundering magazine, George.
"He was such a beautiful, down-to-earth cat," Tyson writes. They talked about Kennedy's cousin Michael, who had been having an affair with the family's teenage babysitter. JFK Jr. also told Tyson he didn't know that much about his grandfather, except that the patriarch had coddled his sons so they'd run for office. "Nobody in my family knows how to run a business, that's why they all went into politics," Kennedy told him. "He wanted us to be pampered guys."
They also talked about relationships, and JFK Jr. mentioned other women. "I got a sense he was going through a lot of s- -t with his wife," Tyson writes. As the visit wound down, Tyson asked if Kennedy would reach out to his cousin Kathleen, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, to help expedite his release date.
"Mike," he said, "I don't really know her."
"You don't know her?" Tyson said. "What the f- -k do you mean? You all play football together up there in Hyannis Port."
JFK Jr. smiled, then was off.
'I WANTED TO DIE'
By November 2005, the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world was a disgraced fighter, most notorious for having bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear during a 1997 fight. It got him banned from boxing for one year. Tyson was broke, having squandered at least $100 million. At the grocery store, he'd do the math in his head and pull items out of the cart - one of his greatest fears was not being able to pay the bill at the register.
"The last time I remember doing that," he says, "was when my mother was on welfare."
Tyson was so promiscuous, he'd pick up any woman around, including, once, a 50-something cashier at Kmart. He was petrified that he had AIDS, yet he was sleeping at strip clubs and having unprotected sex with hookers. His diet at the time consisted of Hennessy, Cialis, cocaine - which he carried in bricks - Zoloft, pot, Marlboros and morphine.
Naomi Campbell attempted to intervene. "Mike, the word is out you're doing a lot of blow," she told him. "You need to stop. You're f- -king your life up."
Tyson's therapist finally persuaded him to check into rehab, but it wasn't till his third attempt that he began a true withdrawal from drugs.
The pain, he writes, was worse than anything he experienced in the ring. "The coke and the liquor were like Novocain for me. Once I stopped doing that, all my arthritis came roaring back. I was a cripple. I couldn't walk, my feet hurt so bad ... I just wanted to die," he writes.
He was also sent to a sex therapist. At first, Tyson writes, he was sceptical, even though "at one point, everything I did sexually consisted of orgies." He always knew these experiences were empty - "It makes you feel like s- -t" - but now he was curious as to why he couldn't stop.
"It sounds trite," he writes, "but I was probably looking for someone to mother me. My whole life I was looking for love from my mother. My mother never gave love to a man. She gave them headaches, she scalded them, she stabbed them."
In rehab, he watched La Vie en Rose, the French film about the troubled chanteuse Edith Piaf, and sobbed hysterically. Piaf, too, had been raised among hookers and pimps and never wanted to leave, and Tyson got that.
"You could be in hell and happy there," he writes. "Some people thrive in misery. You take away their misery and bring them into the light and they die emotionally and spiritually because pain and suffering has been their only comfort. The thought of someone loving them and helping them without wanting anything in return could never enter their minds."
Tyson would do several more stints in rehab - each time he relapsed, he'd call it "letting the devil in." He had a cultural resurgence in 2009, playing himself in The Hangover. He now admits that he was drunk and high during the entire shoot. But he won strong reviews, and, encouraged, "my vanity kick[ed] in," he writes.
He was 380 pounds. Tyson went all vegan and began working out for three hours a day. His chronic ailments disappeared.
Oprah called. He went on her show and talked about the monumental losses he had suffered - including the accidental death of his 4-year-old daughter, who had been living with her mother at the time - and his remorse over the Holyfield incident. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
"When I look back on my life, it's hard to believe how big an entity I was at the height of my fame," Tyson writes. "I felt like I was part of a freak show for most of my career as a boxer. Later, I just felt like a freak."
Now 47 years old, he still hopes for a happy ending, but he knows he may never get there.
"I still have a lot of work to do," he writes. "I have to try to really love myself."