Mike Tyson is currently baring his soul to the world in an HBO special and a new memoir, both titled "Undisputed Truth." He's just not sure how he'll explain his shocking life story to his children.
"This is really what I'm worried about the most," said Tyson, 47. "It's gonna be very interesting how I'm gonna talk to them about how I was as a kid. I come from an extremely poor [background], like a slum dweller. My parents couldn't feed us. And wow, that's pretty interesting when you really think about that. You know, your parents can't feed you."
The former heavyweight champion has two young children with his third wife, Kiki (who wrote the stage show filmed by Spike Lee), as well as five older children who attend private schools, Georgetown University and Parsons. He says they all have sheltered lives and will never have to struggle the way he did growing up in the tough Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the 1970s where he was arrested 30 some times before the age of 15.
"One day we're gonna have to have that talk," he said of his children. "They'll say, 'Dad, is something wrong with you dad? Are you OK? Were you all right back then?' That's gonna be pretty interesting. 'You robbed people, you shot at people Dad. What kind of person are you?'"
In his HBO Films special, Tyson tells entertaining anecdotes about his upbringing, how he got into boxing and his mentor, boxing trainer Cus D'Amato, as well as his troubles in the ring (the Evander Holyfield ear-biting incident) and out of it (his marriage to Robin Givens and his conviction and three-year incarceration for the rape of Desiree Washington-a crime he says he did not commit).
Tyson gets much darker in his hefty memoir written with Larry Sloman, opening up about the father he barely saw and his mother, who died when he was 16. He pulls no punches when discussing his own shortcomings, but is even more brutal on the people he says used him, including Givens and boxing promoter Don King.
In a recent phone interview, Tyson, who also works as a promoter for young boxers, talked about what motivated him to tell his story in so many venues, his continued struggles and who has punched him recently.
"Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" can next be seen at 3:15 p.m. CST Nov. 24 on HBO with several more November and December airings on HBO and HBO2. Check hbo.com for air dates.
You've opened up in the one-man show, the HBO special and your memoir. Why share so many personal details of your life?
Hey listen, we were planning to do [the book] two years ago, but when my ghost writer was talking to me he asked me some questions about my life, especially about Don King and Robin [Givens]. It just evoked some really nasty feelings and I just really didn't want to do it. So I avoided him for like a year and a half and it just came time to do it. I was in need of some money and I just sat down and became really honest with him.
The book has even more details than the stage show.
Oh, absolutely. The book is over 500 pages and it's only 90 minutes on stage. The book is really interesting. It's really kind of gut wrenching. You have to know I come from a very dark place in life, really dark and at the end of the book you see some light.
I felt that way in your show, too.
Oh, but that's nothing. That's nothing--the book is really dark. It talks about my mother, my father. And I really never knew my father until I got older. I just had a glimpse of him and very short interactions with him.
When this whole process started, did you feel a need to share stories of your life?
Oh, not at all. Not at all. Not at all. My writer thought it would be awesome. My wife thought it would be awesome. They thought I had something to tell. I just thought I had nothing but shame in my life. I never knew how poor I was, you know? I was watching one of those shows, "Being Mike Tyson," and it shows how 1972 and '73 Brownsville was like--they called it the slum dwellers. We were like below the starvation level. And that's just wild to think, "How can a guy like that make it? That guy's almost like a third world country."
Were these projects helpful for you to move on?
I don't know. I haven't reached that place in life yet. I'm just waiting for people to read the book and see what happens. It's really crazy; I just can't believe I did this stuff.
With the HBO special and stage show, did you enjoy doing it for the entertainment value of it?
I like the entertaining more than anything. We don't really get much money from that stuff, but I just love being onstage. This is what I like doing.
When was the last time someone tried to punch you?
[Laughs.] My son punched me in the head the other day.
But that's OK, right?
Yeah, he's two years old.
That’s funny. The special was written/produced by your wife, Kiki.
Well, I told her about the stuff and she wrote it.
I've read that she sort of sugarcoated things at first and then you guys went back and reworked them.
Yeah, she didn't know that part of my life and she probably thought that was some really dark stuff. I said, "This is the truth." Most people know that. My wife didn't really know that about me. But most of my fans and most of the people that know Mike Tyson know about my past. If we did that they would just right away know this is bullshit. People would stand up in the audience and say, "I was there, that was bullshit. That didn't happen." And that's just the truth. That's how people are in New York. So she had to just write for what it was.
Was it uncomfortable telling her some of these stories?
Believe it or not it wasn't. She handled it pretty good, unless she's becoming a good method actor.
You've never really had an issue with being able to share these feelings and the stories?
Well, not between people I love. But you have to know that the world knows now. Holy shit.
Were you uncomfortable when you first started doing the show?
Not the show but just the book.
Let's talk about your acting a little bit. You've done "The Hangover" and that sort of is a fictionalized version of yourself. And you've done some other stuff and you seem pretty comfortable with it now. Do you want to start playing people that aren't similar to you?
Yeah, I did "Law and Order." I did a sexual abused young man that came back to kill his abuser. And that was pretty good on "Law and Order." I did a real good job. I didn't play myself. And I enjoyed not playing myself.
Do you want to do more of that?
Absolutely. God willing.
Sort of a second, third, fourth career for you, huh?
I don't know. I'm just enjoying life right now. It's no pressure right now. And that's when it’s good. You know when there's pressure--when you got to walk down the streets and people interview you, that's really complicated.
That newfound fame again is a little bit uncomfortable. I know how that stuff can get to you. As a young kid I took it for granted and I thought this was what I deserve. And I just went too far with it. My ego was too far out of whack. And right now I'm really conscious about conducting myself and how my moral standards are now in life moreso than my accomplishments.
What's one of the things in the show that affects you the most in telling the story?
I talk about my mother and my daughter that died, you know? I'm always objective onstage, but when I did the book it's just really wild. I can feel sorry for myself when I'm doing the book. I never had really a family. I'm really like a Neanderthal so to speak, a predator, a scavenger, you know? You get what you can get and run.
I never really looked at it that way. You know what is really ironic? I can really believe that I'm somebody. I'm Mike Tyson; I'm the greatest fighter. I can really go into that realm until I think about my childhood. My childhood prevents me from feeling egotistical, from having the big ego sometimes when I'm facing the reality of who I am.
It's just like, "You're a bum, man. ... Your parents couldn't feed you. You were below starving level. Who do you think you are? You lived in abandoned buildings. You're really a slum dweller. You never really knew what it was to have a luxury. You should be really grateful anybody even knows your name and you got shoes to walk in and you're not in the streets begging for food."
And I fight so hard to make sure they never have to see what I've seen.
Well, your childhood circumstances aren't you're fault. Certainly you must feel some gratification in knowing that you survived all that?
Yes. But it's always a struggle. It's always a struggle—that’s what I think of. What makes me strive and what makes me continue to march on and not get discouraged and give up in life is because I don't want [my children] to ever see what I did. I never want my son to ever think, "I want to be a boxer like my dad" and have to fight somebody like me, an animal, you know?
What story are you most happiest telling?
About Cus [D'Amato] and about Mitch Green. When me and Mitch Green had a fight, you know, there's some good stuff.
Which you can totally tell in this HBO special. You become very animated talking about them. And you're so funny, too.
Thank you very much. I like making people laugh. I didn't intend for it to be so funny. I wanted it to be more like a suspense drama, but it turned out to funny and people had a sense of humor and we enjoyed that. And I said, "Wow, everyone's laughing at this. This is a good show."
You make a joke about the Holyfield incident. So I have an oddball question about biting his ear. Did you spit that out or swallow it?
[Laughs.] I spit it out.
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