Mike Tyson is happy. Mike Tyson is really happy.
“If I’m any happier,” Tyson said during our telephone conversation last week, “I might start using again.”
Tyson is, literally, a one-man show these days. His critically acclaimed “Undisputed Truth” rolls into Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resorts Casino on Jan. 24. He is an actor. He is a recovering addict. The baddest man on the planet is a much more embraceable teddy bear now, aware that each day is capable of making or breaking him, growing more comfortable that he will spend the rest of his life meaning different things to different people.
“It’s funny that you say that, because I was with 50 Cent last night,” Tyson said. “Fiddy was saying, ‘Mike, you should hear people liking you behind your back.’ I’m like, ‘Man, that’s really me now.’ He’s like, ‘These young people don’t remember you from fighting. They only remember you from ‘The Hangover.’ The older ones remember you from fighting, so they are still apprehensive. They see you laughing and smiling and say it’s not the same guy.’
“It is a very strange dynamic, even for me. You get kids now, 14, 15, they’re going, ‘Look, dad, mom, there goes the actor Mike Tyson.’ Mom and dad explain who I was and they’re like, ‘Really? No way. No way that guy bit somebody’s ear off.’ People change. People can change when you can change your mind.”
If addicts are meant to live life one day at a time, Tyson is born to be one of the world’s most fascinating addicts. There he was at the start of January, writing an Op-Ed piece about addiction and New Year’s resolutions for The New York Times. Whether it’s on stage or in the pages of the newspaper of record, few do self-discovery better than Tyson. Let’s face it. Few have had better material to work with.
So there he was the other day on the radio in Philly with Anthony Gargano and Rob Ellis on 94WIP, accusing Dennis Rodman of “100 percent treason” for his trip to North Korea. There was Tyson and his third wife, Lakiha Spicer, telling the New York Post this week about plans to produce a movie on his early years. And there was Tyson again at the Golden Globes the other night posing in photos with everyone from Lamar Odom and Helen Mirren.
“On Jan. 14 (Tuesday), I have five months sober,” Tyson said. “I’m proud of it. I was sober for three years before that, but this is the first time I’ve been sober, happy to be sober and felt good inside my skin. I’d been a white knuckler for three years. I felt miserable. Look, my biggest challenge in life is a moral challenge. Other people have other problems. Mine is all about being moral.”
Tyson, 47, wrote in The Times about how he had vowed to get sober after the accidental death of his 4-year-old daughter Exodus in 2009. His book, his show, the success of it on HBO, his reality series for Fox — Tyson found success for the first time since his rise as the youngest heavyweight champion. In August, Tyson slipped. He went on a drinking binge. He swears he is at his most dangerous when everything is going too well.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” Tyson said. “Anybody telling you how great you are, you’re the man, you’re a god, you’re great. Then it follows if I’m so great, how can me doing a line of coke, over-drinking, doing drugs, abusing somebody, be bad? Everything you do is perfect. You can’t do nothing wrong.”
He caught himself this time after a few days. Unlike the old days, he says that his support system with his wife is much better. Look, some people are never going to see Mike Tyson as anything but a brutal maniac, a rapist, a felon. He knows that. Yet he swears that he always had a conscience. He swears that he always had discipline, that he didn’t know how to turn that conscience and discipline in boxing to making sound moral choices.
“Suffering, that’s what I do well,” Tyson said. “I’m good at suffering. I allow myself to suffer for my primary goal. I did it for boxing for a time. Now, I know I can’t go out, chase girls, party, eat foods that put on the extra calories. And it kills me. It drives me insane. I almost want to jump out of the window. But I won’t do it. I refrain from it. The only way I can is through discipline. I am from the Cus D’Amato school. Discipline is doing what you hate, but doing it like you love it. Not with an attitude, not as a morose individual, but do it with zest and joy. If you do it and you’re miserable, it doesn’t count. If you’re bickering and complaining, it doesn’t count.”
So he doesn’t bicker. He doesn’t complain. And the world goes on wondering if he is the guy with the tiger in “The Hangover Part II” or the personification of evil from 20 years ago. After “Undisputed Truth” was on HBO, Tyson didn’t think people would want to see it in person anymore. They do. His life was the Great Car Wreck. We couldn’t turn our eyes away. Maybe we never will.
“Cus used to say, ‘We’re in the hurt business,’” Tyson said. “Our objective is to beat this man, either by surrender or total destruction. I would hurt people and knock them senseless. I’m 15 and I just knocked a grown man out. This guy isn’t moving. His wife is jumping in the ring, holding a baby, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It affected me. Cus would say, hey, he was trying to do that do you.”
“It turned for me from going to, ‘Oh, my God,’ to actually laughing at it. Look at that, his family is in the ring and he ain’t waking up until next year. That’s the mentality you have to have to be the baddest man on the planet. I don’t have to be that person now. I don’t want to be that person. I want to be a happy guy. I want people to enjoy me.”
I won’t lie. I used to hate what Mike Tyson stood for, hated his words, hated his actions. I don’t anymore. He was an animal. Now he’s a man. For some, he’ll always be both.
He is sharp. He’s engaging. That’s what strikes you about Tyson in 2014. I do believe that his search for morality is endless. Some would say that his need for attention is also endless. That could be true and it doesn’t much bother me. One thing is for sure: His laugh is irresistible.
He laughs as we talk about the 52,000-square-foot mansion he once owned on 17 acres in Farmington. The gym, billiards room, racquetball courts, disco with stripper poles, all of it. Built by former Colonial Realty kingpin Ben Sisti, Tyson bought it in 1996 for $2.7 million, but his ex-wife Monica Turner Tyson got it six years ago for $1 in a divorce settlement. 50 Cent eventually bought it. Tyson was all ears as we talked about the real estate scandal that left Sisti going to jail and how I once knew him when he owned the Whalers.
“My friends in prison said (Sisti) was a great guy,” Tyson said. “Man, that is one incredible house. That house was for having a good time and enjoying it with your friends. I was telling 50. Have some sensational times and then sell it. Fiddy has enough money to take care of it, but that house can eat your ass alive. Just paying for mowing that lawn will eat your ass alive.”
“We had a few parties there. It was a den of inequity. Absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t want to say anymore. There are some things I don’t want to tell my daughter I did.”
It turns out, Mike Tyson has a conscience.