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Mike Tyson says the 'Undisputed Truth' is he's changed

The former boxing champion brings his Spike Lee-directed one-man show to the Pantages Theatre. He says of his old id, 'Iron Mike is dead.' So who is he now?

March 02, 2013|By Chris Lee, Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — Spend a sunny afternoon at home with Mike Tyson and if the erstwhile Baddest Man on the Planet is in an expansive mood, he may indulge his cherished pastime: letting loose the performing pigeons he raises in his backyard to flap and somersault in the skies over southern Nevada.

And if the mood strikes him, the former heavyweight champion of the world may lower his guard enough to talk about something close to the bone: personal metamorphosis.

As a function of this discussion, the self-described piece of garbage from the sewage system in Brooklyn will address his killer instinct. It no longer compels him to be his own worst enemy, to alienate loved ones or lash out at all perceived slights. He'll tell you how the chest-beating, "I'll eat your children" Tyson — the knockout phenom who defended his title nine times and famously bit off a piece of opponent Evander Holyfield's ear during a 1997 comeback bout — has ceased to pose any threat to public safety.

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And he may even confide how his raging id, "Iron Mike," has been effectively defanged through focus on family life and sobriety. "Iron Mike is dead," Tyson said, sprawled across a white leather sofa in his mini-mansion in a gated development on a bluff overlooking Sin City. "That guy tries to come out every once in a while. But I'm not him. I'm trying to be Michael Gerard Tyson now."

This power-puncher-turned-self-reflective vegan, a rebooted and seemingly rebranded version of modern boxing's hardest-partying Tyrannosaurus rex, is on conspicuous display in "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," Tyson's warts-and-all one-man show that's hitting more than 30 cities — including Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre from March 8 through 10 — on a national tour through the spring.

Directed by the fighter's longtime buddy Spike Lee and produced by the live entertainment powerhouse Nederlander Organization, the stage performance documents Tyson's roller coaster career and well-documented personal turmoil with an added dimension that comes as a surprise from a guy whose fists did all the talking for most of his adult life: a clarity that allows him to own the most sordid chapters of his past.

The show debuted in Las Vegas last year and ran for 10 days on Broadway to mixed but generally positive reviews. "The results are weirdly fascinating, and actually in keeping with a long tradition of pugilists retreating to the stage after their fighting days are over," Frank Scheck wrote in the Hollywood Reporter. USA Today, meanwhile, called "Undisputed Truth" "equal parts stand-up routine, sentimental journey and self-pity party."

But Tyson, 46, remains emphatic that cataloging his litany of chaos — including his stormy marriage to Robin Givens, compulsive cocaine abuse, squandering an estimated $400-million fortune and his 1992 rape conviction that led to a three-year prison sentence — in front of an audience does not represent some splashy attempt to rehabilitate his image. With his none-too-subtle Maori face tattoo and unapologetic demeanor, Tyson isn't asking to be taken as a sympathetic narrator.

"My job is not to change anybody's mind about me," he said. "I'm going to talk about the issues that vanquished me. That's the whole thing: I'm in this to win it from a moral perspective.

"And I don't care if people like me or not. My job is to entertain — to put the data out there in a delightful way. I want people to say, 'When can I see him perform again?!'"

All over the place

Hanging out with the man formerly known as Kid Dynamite, the youngest heavyweight champ ever to win the WBA, IBF and WBC titles, necessarily involves any number of freewheeling conversational zigzags, emotional sidebars and ponderous digressions.

As with his onstage monologue, Tyson is apt to careen from heart-rending tales of woe — how his mother was an "alcoholic drunk" who "slept with anybody who would give her a dollar" — to childlike remembrances of a string of outré predicaments. He claims he was kidnapped by Chechen mobsters during a promotional trip to Russia, stole a World War I military assault rifle at age 12 to rob and menace his Brooklyn neighbors and got rid of his pack of pet tigers because one "ripped somebody's arm off in Texas."

After retiring from boxing in the mid-'00s, the former champ's weight ballooned to 360 pounds. And despite having dropped around 130 pounds from that peak weight, Tyson's gusto for food remains undiminished. Midconversation, he invited a visitor to join him for an all-you-can-eat special at the local Indian restaurant. "I'm a buffet guy," Tyson said with a barracuda-like smile.

Now four years sober — with the sunken bar in his home functioning as teddy bear storage for his 2-year old son ,Morocco — Tyson doesn't flinch from recounting episodes from his days of sex addiction and substance abuse.

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