By Kam Williams
Born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1966, Michael Gerard Tyson is an all-time boxing great who, in his prime, struck fear in the heart of any opponent he squared off against. He compiled an impressive record of 50 wins, five losses and one disqualification for biting off an opponent’s ear over the course of an incomparable career in which he became the first undisputed heavyweight champ to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF title belts simultaneously.
Iron Mike has weathered a host of woes and controversies outside the ring ranging from allegations of spousal abuse to a rape conviction to the death of his four-year-old daughter, Exodus, to declaring bankruptcy after frittering away over $300 million in prizefight purses. Today, he is a very happily-married man, with a couple of children, Milan and Morocco, by his third wife, Kiki.
Tyson (MT) is currently nearing the end of a 36-city tour of the country in “Undisputed Truth,” a one-man Broadway show directed by Spike Lee and written by Tyson’s wife. The show is part comedy/part confessional and covers all of the above and more. Tyson has been getting rave reviews from his audience and theatre critics.
Mike McNulty of the LA Times wrote, “Like all those mouthy contenders who ended up flat on their back in the first round, I underestimated the former heavyweight champion of the world. He came to box with himself, to thrash out his story before his fans, leaving no controversy unturned and me dazed with a sympathy I hadn’t expected. I thought I’d be cold-cocking him in print, but his mix of street swagger and newfound humility conquered me.”
Here, the pugilist-turned-actor talks about his life, his boxing career, his acting and his latest movie, Scary Movie 5, co-starring a rogue’s gallery of controversial celebrities including Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Katt Williams and Snoop Dogg.
Kam Williams (KW): Hi Mike, thanks for the interview.
Mike Tyson (MT): What’s up, Kam?
KW: I really appreciate your taking the time to speak with me.
MT: It’s all good in the ‘hood, my friend.
KW: Ray Hirschman asks: What interested you in Scary Movie 5?
MT: Whew! It’s a franchise that’s going to last ‘til the end of time. I wanted to be involved with that. I don’t care how silly it comes across. It’s more so for us than for kids. It’s adults acting stupid and silly.
KW: What was it like working with this cast?
MT: Everybody was great. Ashley [Tisdale] was awesome. I got an autographed picture of her for my niece.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: How did you get into acting?
MT: Just from messing around with a friend, Jim Toback, the director of The Pickup Artist. I always used to see him in New York and talk to him when I was younger, like a teenager. Anthony Michael Hall brought me onto the set one day in about ’86, and Jim and I became acquainted and then good friends, and he started putting me into his movies, first Black and White, and then we did Tyson. He thought I was an interesting character. After that, I did The Hangover and got bitten by the acting bug. I have a lot of friends who’ve won Oscars, and they started telling me I could do it, too.
KW: I remember your doing a great job in Black and White opposite some famous daughter. Who was it, Jennifer Jason Leigh?
MT: That was Bijou Phillips. She was awesome in that film.
KW: And Jim’s documentary, Tyson, was riveting from start to finish.
MT: I’m just very grateful for his friendship. He’s a remarkable dude.
KW: Larry Greenberg says, when we talk about comedy, you hear words that could refer to boxing like “timing” and “punch line.” Do you see any similarities between the two?
MT: I don’t know. People tell me I’m a comedian, but I don’t approach acting from that perspective. I do know that everything in life has to do with your timing and perception. You have to be comfortable with the rhythm that you’re in. You can’t just jump into a fast rhythm if yours is slow. You might have to pick up the pace but in your own particular way. It has to do with personality, too.
KW: Richie the intern was wondering how the play‘s coming along?
MT: We’ve been doing just great, selling out every night. And I couldn’t believe the reviews. I couldn’t believe it was me they were talking about. They’re saying,“remarkably funny” and “moving.” I was like, “they’re talking about me?” The biggest honor I had so far was when the comedian Jeff Ross told me he liked it and said, “You’re one of us, now” That was just amazing.
KW: Fight fan Mike Ehrenberg asks, who was stronger, Razor Ruddick or Bonecrusher Smith?
MT: Bonecrusher was stronger, but Razor Ruddick hit harder.
KW: Mike also asks: What was the hardest punch you ever took in the ring?
MT: Wow! A bunch of guys really rang my clock. Gee! Razor Ruddick…Lennox Lewis…Evander Holyfield… They all did a number on me.
KW: Mike is curious about how you think you would’ve matched up against some of the other heavyweight greats in the ring?
MT: I have no idea. I just did what I did in my era, basically because of my admiration for the guys who came before me. That’s how I’ve always looked at it. I never thought of boxing like, I’m going to be the greatest fighter ever and make a lot of money. Instead, I thought I was going to win because I learned from the best. I carefully studied the videotapes of all the fighters from the past, dissected their styles, and entered the ring with their spirit.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: Champ, you’ve had a long and varied career that involved lots of press coverage. What’s the thing you’d most have us remember about you?
MT: Overcoming my adversities.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
MT: Me? I see an old, broke-ass Black guy taking care of a bunch of kids, living life, taking them to school, and all that stuff, who’s asking himself, “What the hell is this?” But I wouldn’t give it up for the world because I love my wife. I never expected to have a life like this. No chaos…no confusion…no lawsuits…no violence…no going to jail…
KW: I’m originally from Bed-Stuy, too, from around Nostrand Avenue and Eastern Parkway.
MT: I know where that’s at. That’s an awesome neighborhood! Bed-Stuy, do or die! I’m from Franklin between DeKalb and Willoughby. Do you remember the welfare place at 500 DeKalb?
KW: Sure, I’m older than you. I was born in the early Fifties.
MT: Oh, so you know what’s really going down. My mother used to have us waiting with her in that long-ass line when we were kids. But we moved to Brownsville when I was 10.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
MT: Being in the hospital at about five years of age, after I drank some Drano. I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother had a bunch of people over the house, and I drank it because no one was paying me any attention.
KW: Yeah, children would prefer to be praised than punished, but they’d rather be punished than ignored.
MT: No doubt about it. That’s life. That’s our nature as human beings.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
KW: Lastly, if you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
MT: That my daughter could still be with us.
KW: My condolences, Mike. Thanks again, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
MT: Thank you, Kam. Okay, brother.
Kam Williams is a syndicated entertainment writer.