Mike Tyson is, without a question, one of the most fascinating, complex men alive today.
To boxer fans, he's the heavy weight champion of the world, to pop culture enthusiasts, he's the guy who bit Evander Holyfield's ear. To his ex-wife Robin Givens, he's a sort of enemy, to the pigeons he raises, a caretaker. He's an actor, vegan, philanthropist, and also the star of a popular one man Vegas-to-Broadway show, Undisputed Truth, directed by Spike Lee.
For all of our ideas about Tyson, a recent conversation with him revealed an emotionally complex character who's also a dedicated humanitarian. And humanity is definitely something Tyson reflects, in all of its fierceness, romance, violence, vulnerability, and tendency to survive.
"I realize that whatever time I have left," he related, "I want to make the best of it, and I want to be able to pass something back and be able to pay it forward. I want to be more than just some destructive fighter, I want to be known as someone who was compassionate and charitable." Then added, "I've met a lot of great people, but I haven't met a lot of good people."
The boxer has taken on a new role of good person and philanthropist by launching Mike Tyson Cares on December 7, with his current wife Lakiha Spicer. The charity supports children of broken homes. Tyson also mentions that it helps those affected by domestic violence, providing them with shelter and safe-haven. So far, among other things, they've provided 7,000 homeless children with school supplies. "I thought that was amazing," he said, "Me and my wife want to make a better situation for the homeless people and domestic violence [victims]."
Tyson's made some headlines for changing his diet as well. The man we all think of as hungry for flesh (sorry, Evander) is now living life as a vegan. He joked that his wife was a vegan for about a week, "one month she's a vegan, one month she's a vegetarian, next month she's not eating carbs."
But her fad became his dinner spread. "I like this vegan thing. This is who I think I want to be," he said. "When I did more research about this, we don't need to kill those damn animals to stay healthy and live. It shows that we live longer. If we don't get killed or shot or hit by a car." Tyson considers it courageous, and believes it's changed his life tremendously, "I want to die this way."
Interestingly, Tyson is also known for raising birds for homing-pigeon racing in Brooklyn. "I've had pigeons there since I was nine years old. It's just a culture in New York City, in poverty stricken areas, it's what we do." When asked if he ever gets attached to any of them, thinks of them as pets, he responded thoughtfully, "I try not to because, I realize they get sick and die, and it will affect me, so I try not to get too attached.
"Sometimes, like human beings, you just can't help it. They have such a magnetic personality or are a beautiful looking bird. Just like human beings, sometimes they overwhelm you with their beautiful personality, and some do it with their drop-dead beautifulness."
Given that we spoke with him only days before the presidential election, we had to ask who Tyson thought would win. "Anything can happen." He reflects, "I definitely hope that the Obama machine works. The whole idea that his machine, the campaign, sounds beautiful for the working class people." But he's not so sure about some others out there trying to get elected. "There are people out there that don't give a damn about children that are sick a lot or can't get a proper education. The only thing they want them to do is work for their children, slave for their children. They don't care nothing about them. That's what we have to fight for in this country, we have to make this a better country than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I think we're on our way to doing that."
The conversation then took a slight turn and one of the big election issues came up: Immigrants. "The next hundred years, those are the people that are going to build this country and make it the strongest country in the world or make it the worst country by the way they're being perceived when they come in this country," Tyson said, "It's up to us how we're going to help this country. Are we going to keep it classist, and 'we're better than those people, because our skin is lighter than theirs? Our kids have more money are smarter than theirs, so those people are subhuman?' We've got to continue to fight harder and harder to keep those people out of public office. They're supposed to serve the people, but they serve their own selfish needs."
And on Mitt Romney's comments on the 47%, a group that Tyson likely is member of, he didn't hold back: "There are a whole bunch of people with that kind of ideology in their minds, and they looked at the country that way when this country was first founded, and they'll be that way a 100 years from now. They'll be the problem, but we're going to fight the problem.
"The problem is never going to go away. Didn't go away in my grandmother's time, in my great-grandfather's time, and it's not going to go away in my time. Every generation's going to fight. We're going to fight when them when we see them in Europe. We're going to fight them when we see them in Asia. We're going to fight them when we see them in New York City. We're going to fight them when we see them in the Bronx. We're going to fight them when we see them in Chicago, DC. We're going keep this country a loving country, a respectable country, a country that was built from all races all over the world."
This concept of unity extended to an issue that is touchy for any man in the sports world, homosexuality. But Tyson handled the topic with grace. "I'm not saying anything," sounding uncomfortable for a second, "I'm just saying from a humanitarian perspective. A human being. Everybody should be treated [equally]. Isn't that what this country is founded on? But I think we need to all be judged by the character, the content of our character more than just what we are as individuals." And character is something that Tyson is working on building, full time.
His newest endeavor is the revelatory Undisputed Truth that'll be making its way to South Florida this weekend. We asked if the stories he tells will change as the show heads off Broadway, he said they won't, "I discussed that with my wife, that we start doing different stories, but I told the stories that people knew about but they don't know the under-riding factors of it." Tyson guarantees the same "crazy tales."
Tyson thinks it's about entertainment, and "working with the emotions of the crowd, feeling the crowd's vibe," but admitted, it's "just really liberating."
Himself a very disciplined worker, as any sports champion, he dished on his very famous director, "Spike's a hard worker, somewhat of a taskmaster. He's going to make sure he brings out the best in you for the show. I really enjoyed working with him so much."
For a guy who's done it all, good and bad, what's his next challenge? "I want to be a great contributor to life, to humanity," he revealed. "That's so much bigger than being a famous celebrity, a famous star. It's a gift to give. I noticed, when I was younger, I wanted to acquire so much materialism. As I get older, I realize life is about love. You have to give. Not only materialism, but you have to give education, give experience, give knowledge, to give of yourself, to be selfless. That's how I feel about my destiny in life now."
Undisputed Truth at 9 p.m. on Nov. 10 at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, 5555 NW 40th Street, Coconut Creek. Tickets cost between $85 and $200 plus fees. Visit Ticketmaster.