Where’s Mike Tyson?
He’s supposed to be on the phone, and his publicist is trying to track him down. He’s somewhere in Vegas, which is home now. Tyson is a family man. He spends his days taking the kids to school, working out, flying pigeons (a hobby from his childhood in Brooklyn), and with the help of his wife Kiki, searching for jobs.
Those jobs are invariably gigs based on his being Mike Tyson, the heavyweight with a biting history.
He needs the work. He needs it because he’s only 50 — too old to viably fight (and he doesn’t want to, anyway) but too young to retire to days filled with nothing but himself and his thoughts. (Lost in his own history – one of broken homes, drugs, crimes, fights, controversies – is a place Tyson doesn’t want to be anyhow.)
Tyson needs work because, despite making hundreds of millions in his heavyweight-champion career, he’s in debt. But the man still has earning potential: He’s in movies, on TV, writing books, and has a one-man show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” that he’ll be performing Oct. 8 at the Seneca Niagara Events Center in Niagara Falls.
He’s supposed to be on the phone right now to talk about that show, but his publicist is still trying to reach him. Maybe he’s wrapping up a recording session for his cartoon, she suggests. (That’s “Mike Tyson Mysteries,” an Adult Swim show in which Tyson’s character plays detective with a team of problem-solving sidekicks: his fictional adopted daughter, a ghost, and an alcoholic pigeon.)
Yeah, maybe he’s wrapping up in the studio. But you can’t help wondering if he’s not. Maybe he’s just M.I.A. That would fit the Tyson stereotype, right? Iron Mike has never been an ironclad example of responsibility:
He’s been to jail for rape.
He bit off a chunk of another boxer’s ear.
He somehow spent millions more than the many millions he earned.
He’s had a drug problem. He has that tribal face tattoo that reaches like claws around his left eye. He’s liable to F-bomb an interviewer who dares ask him the wrong question. He’s —
He’s on the phone.
“How you doing, buddy?” he said in that unmistakably soft, slightly lispy, kiddie-grizzled voice.
Hey Mike. Tell me why you decided to share your life onstage.
“I saw Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show ‘A Bronx Tale,’ ” Tyson said. “I wanted to do that. He was such an expert at telling stories. Man, I was really captivated with his storytelling.”
That’s all Tyson is offering right now, but his 2013 autobiography, also called “Undisputed Truth,” expands on it: Tyson and his wife saw Palminteri’s show at a Vegas theater in 2009. Afterward, Tyson told his wife that he could do something like that.
“But, baby,” he warned her, “my show is gonna be a little gut-wrenching.”
It is. Filmmaker Spike Lee helped Tyson take the show to Broadway for a limited run in 2012, and captured it on camera for a 2013 HBO documentary. That film, which essentially mirrors the show Tyson is bringing to Niagara Falls, digs deep into the former boxer’s controversial life: He comes from broken beginnings in New York City, where the man he knew to be his drop-in father (a pimp named Curly Kirkpatrick who showed up a couple of times a year) was not the man listed on his birth certificate, Purcell Tyson.
“I’m still not sure who my father really is,” Tyson says in the show. “Curly was a pimp. Purcell was a humble Jamaican cab driver. I so desperately wanted to be the son of a pimp… because in my neighborhood, that carries weight.”
His mom had a series of openly sexual, openly abusive relationships before dying when Mike was 16. Which is when he came into the care of his boxing coach, Cus D’Amato, who transformed Tyson from street fighter to ring fighter.
At 20, Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. If life was Rocky rather than rocky, that would be the Balboa-esque resolution — the tail end of the story arc.
Rather, the first championship was just a bright spot of a step on a storyline that would only get rockier: For the next three decades, Tyson’s life would be loaded with scandal, legal troubles and bad decisions. In the show, he hits many of them head-on, including two of the most storied: His 1992 rape conviction (Tyson spent just under three years in jail, and still claims innocence), and the 1997 fight in which he bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
“All I can say is I snapped,” Tyson says in the show. “I went from 10th hated man on the planet – which I could handle – to numero uno after I bit (him).”
But they’re over it, Tyson said. “Now I really am sorry and me and Holyfield have become friends.”
The production of “Undisputed Truth” is simple: It’s Tyson, a stool, some background music, and a big screen that depicts images from his life. Tyson’s words provide the storyline.
“Normally, after the show people tell me they’re really captivated,” he said. But Tyson is rather dispassionate about the story, because he approaches the stage the same as his old coach D’Amato taught him to enter the ring: He keeps an emotional distance.
“When I’m up there, I don’t have no connection to it,” he said. “I mean, it’s up there, and I’m just being very objective, and I’m trying to get it done and get it done properly. There’s no moments when I’m satisfied. Only when it’s over.”
The most emotionally trying moments happen when Tyson talks about his daughter Exodus. She died unexpectedly in 2009, at age 4, after she was found with the safety cord of a treadmill wrapped around her neck.
That accident happened seven years ago, and Tyson cries for Exodus every day. But during the show, he writes in his book, he tries not to turn around onstage to look at her picture.
“It wouldn’t be a successful show if I was too emotionally attached,” said Tyson, who has seven other kids. “I probably would start feeling sorry or crying.”
At the end of his show, Tyson talks about wanting to be the best father he can.
“I can’t bring back my baby Exodus, but one thing I can do is honor her life by making a better example of myself for my children who are still with me now.”
You ask him about it: Are you reaching that goal of being a good dad, Mike?
“Hey, listen,” he said. “I’m thinking I’m a lot better than my father was, and that’s all I’m looking to do. Better than my father was.”
Where’s Mike Tyson at?
Right there. In a better place than he came from.
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
When: 8 p.m., Oct. 8
Where: Seneca Niagara Events Center, 310 4th St., Niagara Falls
Info: (800) 745-3000