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."