Arrested 38 times by the time he was 13, Mike Tyson seemed destined to become a legend for all the wrong reasons. But by the age of 20, the Brooklyn native turned his life around and became the undisputed champion of the world in the boxing ring.
Very few people have experienced as many high and lows as Tyson: sports star, household name, marriage, divorce, prison, drugs and the comeback of a lifetime, which started with the 2009 doc Tyson. Now, a fully-reinvented Tyson is continuing his good deeds with the charity Mike Tyson Cares and his participation in Flip the Script, a campaign to stop bullying. Plus, his critically-acclaimed one-man show Undisputed Truth, which opened to rave reviews this summer on Broadway, kicks off a nationwide tour in February. An undisputed truth? That Mike Tyson is champ again.
Here, BET.com talks to a reflective Tyson about his current projects, Chris Brown and fame.
Undisputed Truth is very raw. You've always been candid, but were you at all nervous about revealing too much?
Not really. I’m pretty at peace with what I am and who I am so I really don’t care. I realize we’re just passing through here and what people say about us is none of our business — that's just a conversation about people with our names involved. I just continue to move on in life and try to improve myself as a person and an individual in life.
Tell us about the Mike Tyson Cares charity.
My charity is all about giving kids a fighting chance, like myself. A guy like me...can’t probably give back as far as a trainer should give back, like most fighters do. [But] I can give back as far as helping people, supply 7,000 homeless kids with school supplies. I thought that was more of a giving than anything I could ever do in the boxing ring because I get so much satisfaction out of it.
Did you ever have a desire to be like what Cus D’Amato was to you, and be a trainer?
I don’t know, maybe I am. I never thought I was capable because that’s harder than becoming champion of the world. Being a trainer, being a mentor — your responsible for the life of these people, to prove to these people that they are worth more than what society believes they are.
You’re taking a stand against bullying for the Flip the Script. You’ve talked about being bullied. What are your thoughts on teens who are committing suicide due to bullying?
It’s really bad stuff. People shouldn’t have to live in fear in a free country. They shouldn’t have to worry about somebody being so macho or people in authority telling them, “Hey man, you got to stand up, you got to fight.” No, everybody doesn’t have to fight — everybody can't fight. So we need people to take care of them. We need schools, we need teachers, monitors to have notes on children that are bullying. People have to be accountable for their actions and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
How much do you relate to the name Iron Mike Tyson?
That’s just not who I am no more. When I was Iron Mike Tyson, it was good for me to be Iron Mike Tyson. Now I’m on a different level in life. I want to do different things and my development in life is such a different level than it was when I was fighting. I’m interested in helping people now rather than hurting them.
I hear that fame comes with a price. What price have you paid for fame?
It doesn’t come with a price, it depends on how you handle fame. I didn’t handle it correctly. It’s not that fame comes with a price, you have to be accountable for your actions with fame. The more fame we get, the less accountable we are. It should be the other way: the more that we got the more pragmatic we should become.
You recently said Chris Brown is an altar boy compared to your past. Do you think the media is being too hard on him?
Chris Brown is going to write his own history, but he is not going to write it under the circumstances that he wants it to be. He’s got to write it under the circumstances that’s present today. Regardless if they are hard on him, he’s got to be tough enough, he has to take it. Regardless if we think they are too hard on him or not, they are going to continue to do what they want. It is up to him now to show that he is big enough to handle it and he’s not going to strike back. See, it’s easy to strike back. “You say something about me? I’m going say something about you!” He’s a sophisticated enough guy, he’s got a great support system and he’s doing well. He’s not fighting nobody, he’s not saying, “The heck with the media!” He is continuing to live his life and he is doing a good job. It’s only when he starts fighting back and he’s sensitive and he feels these guys hurt his feelings — that’s when he’s caught up into the rat race. Even though you win, you’re still a rat.
You were once one of the most hated men in America and now people love Mike Tyson. What changed that image?
I didn’t want to be that no more. I wanted to be the hated man in America when I was the hated man in America — that’s why. Anything I wanted to be is what I became. That’s who I wanted to be — that bad ass! I don’t want to be that guy no more. I don’t want my kids to see that guy no more. My kids are scared of guys like that. I don’t want them to see me being that guy. So I’m a different person now, I have to conduct myself differently in society because my kids are watching me now. I want my kids to have some kind of respect for me when I leave this planet. It’s pretty shaky now, they are on the fence so I’m trying to get them to get off the fence by the time I leave this planet.
Undisputed Truth, Mike Tyson Cares, Flip the Script — where do you see this next act of Mike Tyson’s journey going?
I don’t care where it goes, as long as it’s in a positive direction and people are being helped in the process. That’s the only thing that really concerns me at this point. What the hell — I’m 46 right now. When you think about [it], it’s all reality, I’m not being dark — how long do I really have to live? 20 years? 16 years? I’ve done a lot of drugs in my life. You don’t think that’s going to come back to haunt me? That’s just my reality. Whatever life I have left, I want to live the best of it in a positive light.
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(Photo: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)