Not long ago, in a shopping mall, I ran into Mike Tyson.
It was the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas. I came up an escalator, and there was Tyson. He was standing, grinning, surrounded by a little clutch of delighted fans, most of whom wanted to pose for a picture with Iron Mike, the former world champion heavyweight boxer, undisputed.
Even by Vegas standards, this was an unusual scene. I stood off to the side and watched. Tyson did not seem to be shopping or making an official appearance. He didn't avoid eye contact, as do most celebrities in public, especially those whose very presence can cause dangerously unpredictable reactions. He seemed to be going nowhere in particular. It looked, in fact, like what he most wanted to do was stand at the top of an escalator in a mall and watch people's faces as they recognized his tattooed face.
My mind flashed back to a 2011 New Yorker magazine article that had depicted the famously brutal boxer and convicted rapist as having morphed into a serene pigeon fancier. I could see that calm — a slightly creepy calm — with my own eyes. It was smiling right back at me.
Since Tyson is touring his 2012 one-man Broadway show, "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" (Friday and Saturday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre), I had the chance last week to ask him about his present state of mind. It was not easy. There was a publicist on the line with Tyson. This publicist had two overarching concerns: One was to ensure that Tyson, who does not have much of a filter when talking to the press, did not say anything he might regret. Thus, every so often I would hear "I think what Mike is really saying is" which was not necessarily what Mike seemed to be saying at all. The other was to try and steer the questions to some charity that the boxer is supporting and get me to ask him about it.
That's a smart move, of course. When you are doing a one-man show that basically involves you standing there and riffing, you don't want to look like you are profiteering. For the celebrity doing some rebranding, you can't beat a one-man show, which allows you to offer your version of the truth without an interlocutor. It's better than "60 Minutes," in which you have much less content control. About the only unpredictable element is the pre-show interview.
Still, Tyson did answer a few questions. Honestly, it seemed.
"I live moment to moment," he said. "That guy from the past? That guy can't exist in the world. That guy can't survive in this world. I am all about getting that paradigm shifted and focusing on the positive."
Is there a message to his show?
"I don't really know if I have a message. I just perform, and people interpret it the way they need to."
Is this the same show as he did on Broadway?
"It's the same show, but I get a different energy from different cities."
I said that I had read that his show was sharply critical of his ex-wife, Robin Givens, and wondered about the morality of that, given that Givens won't be at the Cadillac Palace. That one drew one of those "I think what Mike is really saying …" interruptions. But Tyson got some stuff out.
"I was the one who could not fight back when she was attacking me," he said. "This is the first time in 25 years that I am answering those questions. I am saying I was stupid letting her do that to me."
His views on the current state of his sport?
"Boxing is, at the moment, very 20th century. It will come off that way until we have a sensational heavyweight champion. We have great personalities in the sport, but we don't have a great heavyweight."
Nobody like him?
"I don't know if I was the greatest boxer," he said. "But I know I was born to entertain."
Touche. I mentioned what I'd seen of him that afternoon in Vegas. He said a few things I didn't quite catch. Then this.
"What I am trying to do now," he said, "is bridge the gap between my morality and my behavior. I am just trying to heal."
Chris Jones' review of "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" will be online by noon Saturday on chicagotribune.com/thetheaterloop. For tickets or more information on the show, visit broadwayinchicago.com.
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth'
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $27-$147; ticketmaster.com