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Ellen Sterling Headshot

Mike Tyson: He's Lived and He's Learned -- Now He's Telling the Story

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2012-04-09-MikeTyson4512.jpg "I love entertaining people. I love the live stuff. The stage was what I was made for."

The speaker is Mike Tyson. He's sitting in the corner of an L-shaped couch in a 12th floor suite in the MGM Grand, hosting a parade of journalists who have come to interview him because, this week, he will be taking the stage at the hotel's Hollywood Theatre to perform Undisputed Truth, a multi-media retrospective of his life so far.

I interviewed Tyson because I write often about Las Vegas shows and his is news. Although I'd read of his exploits over the years, I honestly came into the interview with no opinion one way or another about him. A half-hour or so later, after the interview, I can say I am eager to see the show and impressed with the guy's depth, knowledge and perspective.

At 45, "Iron Mike" Tyson can look back on a life that so far has been -- well, choose your adjective: tumultuous, public, controversial, turbulent or, even, all of the above. But, now, the best adjectives to describe his life might be loving, calm and happy.

He says the show places him on stage "naked. It's just me and the audience," to which show producer Adam Steck hastens to add, "Mike likes to use the word 'naked,' but it's not literal. It's the way he likes to tell people he'll pretty much talk about anything in his life."

The inspiration for Undisputed Truth, came from actor Chazz Palminteri, who performed his one-man show A Bronx Tale in Las Vegas. "After we saw it, I was inspired," Tyson recalls. "I said to my wife, 'Hey, baby, I can do that.

"After all, I've already been doing it in Europe and Asia. I've traveled all over the world. You know, Europeans and Asians get me more than American people do and that's bizarre. I found that many Eastern Europeans don't like Americans and don't understand the problems black people have here. They think we're beautiful and they like us.

"I always talk to people about my life and I found I want to talk my story out. The play is my own world, my faith. I do it my way. I only talk about two fights -- Holyfield and the long count" {in the 1990 fight against Buster Douglas].

When he decided he wanted to do the show, he says, "We didn't know how to do it. But I believe in telepathy and that if you can visualize something it can happen. I came together with [producer and owner of SPI Entertainment ] Adam Steck."

2012-04-09-AdamSteckSPIEntertainmentPalminteriandTysonABronxTaleMondayMarch12LOWRes.jpgSteck (in photo at right with Palminteri and Tyson) who has several shows in permanent residence in Strip hotels, explains that he came to the project when he was working out at the M Resort, the Las Vegas. hotel that Tyson says is his favorite. ("It's the only real family hotel in Nevada, as far as I'm concerned.")

"I had seen Mike Tyson on TV," Steck says, "and saw something deep in the guy. I went back to my office, looked him up and found out he didn't have an agent. Two days later, at the M, I saw the boxer Zab Judah and asked the attendant if Tyson ever came in. He said yes and that he knew Tyson. I asked him to give Mike my card because I wanted to do a show with him. Two days later I got a call from Kiki, Mike's wife."

The Tysons and Steck met and talked. "Kiki told me she'd already written a screenplay," Steck says, "and that made me nervous. Turns out, there was no cause for nerves. It was fantastic. So, I made one phone call, to the MGM and sat down to discuss it with Scott Sibella, president of the hotel, and Richard Sturm, the vice-president of entertainment. They shared my enthusiasm and, so, we open Friday."

With Randy Johnson, who directed the show, Kiki Tyson polished the script and rehearsals began.

On the stage, Tyson discusses his very difficult childhood in Brooklyn, his years with fabled trainer Cus D'Amato, the good and the bad. It was the years under D'Amato's care that much of the man Mike Tyson is today was formed.

He recalls, "Cus told me to be superior to everybody. I didn't feel superior but I could portray a bloodthirsty savage. I am a good actor. You look at me and you see I am overflowing with confidence but you don't see that I have low self-esteem. That doubt is what inspires."

Spending so much time with D'Amato was also a major component of the education of Mike Tyson. He talks with ease about D'Amato's friends. "The people who came to visit him were amazing. There was Budd Schulberg, who wrote On the Waterfront, and the author Gay Talese. They all hated [Senator Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee attorney] Roy Cohn. And Cus really believed in Fidel Castro."

Tyson has also made a study of black history. He is especially admiring of athletes who made their marks in the period of Reconstruction through the early years of the 20th century. He spoke especially warmly of Joe Gans, the lightweight champion of the world from 1902-1908, focusing on Gans' 1906 fight with an opponent who he was warned not to hurt. But, Tyson said, the people who warmed him had bet on him and said that if they lost their money, they'd kill him. But Gans won and knocked out the opponent. "It was hard and it was tough then," Tyson says, "but they were very disciplined at their trade."

We spoke a bit about Jack Johnson, the subject of the play and film The Great White Hope ("He was a miserable person. Mean. He died alone.") he talked admiringly of actor Canada Lee and scholar/athlete/actor Paul Robeson, noting that he, as Robeson did, would like to play Othello.

Meanwhile, before he tackles Shakespeare, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth will travel to many venues. Steck says he's had inquiries from, literally, around the world.

Asked who Tyson's audience is, Steck replies, "The audience is a combination of die-hard Mike Tyson fans -- remember he was my generation's Muhammad Ali and was the youngest champ -- as well as fans of The Hangover and people who are curious."

Opening night, Steck says, will bring out celebrities including Evander Holyfield, George Forman, Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Piers Morgan, George Lopez, Rosie O'Donnell and David Brenner, among others.

Audiences can expect Tyson to, as he says: "give you my all. I will pour my heart out" and to hear what he calls "a dynamic collection of stories." And, they will be seeing a man who's quite at home on the stage, a man who seems totally un-self-conscious. For proof, check out this video of him singing The Girl From Ipanema on a Brazilian TV show:

When it was mentioned he and I had met briefly at a 2010 Tom Jones concert in the Hollywood Theatre where he'll be performing, he spoke a bit Jones ("He's still got that voice and he's in great shape. Can he move!" and immediately burst into a few bars of Jones' hit, It's Not Unusual.

He talked a bit about Sonny Liston, whom he admires and whose grave in Las Vegas, he says, he just visited with a journalist. He was clearly moved by the epitaph on the grave -- two simple words: "A Man."

As to the question of whether MMA fighting will lead to the demise of boxing, his response is firm. "No. MMA is off the hook right now and it doesn't look as if it's going to stop any time soon. But, still, boxers make more money."

Looking out the window of the hotel, Tyson suddenly says, "Oh! Look at the sun. You know, the sun has seen every person who ever walked on the earth. Imagine that."

Finally, asked how he'd like to be remembered, Mike Tyson answers without hesitation, "I want to be remembered as a man who was lost and he lived and he learned."

Photo of Mike Tyson, top, © Ellen Sterling
Photo of Adam Steck, Chazz Palminteri and Mike Tyson © SPI Entertainment. Used with permission.

Around the Web

Mike Tyson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mike Tyson - IMDb

Mike Tyson | Facebook