Editor's note: This story about Mike Tyson's retirement was first published on May 30, 2013. Watch Tyson's biggest fights Saturday on ESPN from 7 pm ET.
MIKE TYSON show me your pigeons.
We are in the backyard of his home, in a cul-de-sac overlooking Las Vegas – a high-ceilinged block he bought from basketball player Jalen Rose five years ago – where he has wooden cages for 100 of his brochures. The pigeons followed Tyson everywhere, from the worst ghetto in Brooklyn to Ohio, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas – wherever he establishes his life, however fleeting it may be. As a boy, Tyson went up to the roof of his Brooklyn building to check his birds. Once, another boy took the head off one of them and Mike Tyson – all 10 years old – also crackled. It was his first winning fight.
Throwing corn on the patio, letting them jump out of their open cages to eat, Tyson, usually a little chatty, is quiet. "This is my time of peace," he says. "I don't talk to them much."
The pigeons are surprisingly beautiful, with white feathers, a flash of green on the neck. But he seems away from his beloved birds.
"I don't touch pigeons as much as I used to when I was younger," explains Tyson in that soft, husky voice. "If something is wrong with them or they are sick, I grab them, but I usually keep my distance."
It surprises me, I tell him. I thought they were more like pets.
And suddenly Mike Tyson hugged me sideways, and he's kneading my shoulder, then pressing his palm to my chest. He opens my jacket and looks at my armpit, as if making sure I am not hiding something particularly repulsive and dirty.
"You don't want anyone, every time they see you," he says, stepping back, "looking at you, looking into your eyes. You can imagine, right?" In fact I can, once I stop laughing. Currently, he respects his birds, leaving them alone, giving them space.
Playing with a joke reporter, however, has another message. Mike Tyson now needs to get closer and be personal. Mostly, he needs to show that he is a changed man.
He had a lot to change, of course. The Badest Man on the Planet, a nickname for a boxer, was a completely accurate description. The bite on Evander Holyfield's ear (twice!), The rape conviction, the drug-ridden years of rage that seemed bent on ending another man's life every time he entered the ring or simply left the ring. bed. And then, once boxing was done with Mike Tyson, that singular slit-eyed ferocity turned inward. His post-career life turned into prostitution, drugs, bankruptcy and more anger.
However, there have been tips in recent years from a different guy. We saw a glimpse of this in the first two films "Ressaca"; throwing himself into appearances, he seemed to not only be enjoying himself, not just playing sports with "Mike Tyson", but different – an absurdly funny and suddenly accessible presence.
The world came closer. "The Hangover" and a series of successful appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" led to "Undisputed Truth", the play about his life, written by Tyson's wife, Kiki, and directed by Spike Lee. In May, as soon as ended its 36-city tour, almost sold out, Tyson signed a contract with Adult Swim for a pilot of an animation show next year.
Still, there is a hole in our understanding. What happened to him? It was said that he was now living a rather boring suburban life as a husband and father, looking for something truly challenging: the simple life of an honest man. A good man. The guy who threatened to eat his opponent Lennox Lewis's children now was someone who says in "Undisputed Truth", thinking about the poor mother's life: "I don't know if I ever told her that I loved her; I hope she knows."
When he was in his deadly spiral – finished boxing, living an ever deeper life – we ended up with Tyson. Having been so sure that he was a vile and unrecoverable monster – in a category of one (or maybe two, joining OJ) – how can we be sure that he is something quite different, a man of calm and kindness? Can this be real?
If you listen, Mike Tyson will tell you. He needs.
"YOU MUST tell him, baby, how sick I was when we were together, "says Tyson from the passenger seat of Kiki's Porsche Panamera when I accompany them to a job fair for homeless women in northern Las Vegas. That morning, we already had taken their daughter, Milan, in preschool, morning ritual by Tyson and Kiki.
"I was sick then," he says. "Three years ago."
"No, it was more than that," corrects Kiki, laughing briefly. She is a decade younger than Mike, who is 46, with a long, angular face and steep heels that hurt his feet. "Our son turned 4 at Christmas," she says to Mike. They also have a son, Morocco, now 2 and a half years old. "It was just over five years ago. He was 360 pounds and almost died. He would eat like a packet of Golden Oreo cookies a day."
Tyson, who now weighs 225, laughs. It was just before "The Hangover", and it was at its lowest point, which for Tyson is saying something. He spent the previous decade, from 1998 to 07, in and out of treatment for cocaine addiction. He was homeless, as he will tell me later: "drug addict … living with prostitutes". And Kiki's memory is right. "I would eat anything," he says. "Cap & # 39; n Crunch Cereals all day."
While Kiki drives, he describes his new diet. Incongruously, he is now vegan. When I arrived at their house at 8 am, Tyson had had a thick green juice with vitamins and other nutrients mixed together. (He's been awake since he was 2. He usually goes to sleep at 8 and wakes up in the middle of the night to exercise.)
"I would hate for people to look at me as extremely healthy people," he says. "& # 39; Get away from me! & # 39; Because they're not eating anything I'm eating, and it makes me feel that what I'm eating is s — and something is wrong with me. I hope not making people feel that way.
"But sometimes, I have to explain things to people. I say: & # 39; If I eat this, I would get sick and die. & # 39; I made a mistake once, eating a piece of steak two years ago . I woke up in the middle of the night and started throwing up violently. Right, dear? "
"Mike's system is incredible like that," says Kiki. "If something is not right, it will just clean up immediately."
"I sweat," says Tyson. In fact, Kiki touched a handkerchief to his forehead to dry the sweat once or twice.
"He'll have a cold for an hour," says Kiki. "Since I was with him, he never had a long cold."
"I think food makes you too sexual," he continues. "It makes you angry, aggressive – I can't believe the difference in who I am now compared to four years ago."
At that time, Tyson also took about 15 pills a day, several prescriptions for various illnesses. They did it, he says, helplessly and dangerously depressed. "I was so high I looked like a zombie, looking at walls, looking at my stuff. So I said to myself," Stop doing these things and use cocaine! "
That's how Tyson talks about you now. "I wouldn't lie to you," he explains. "It would take away my character. The truth is what you want, right?" He is taken to therapy and honesty, the way he once adopted all the advice of the legendary trainer Cus D & # 39; Amato: hungry. "I had a quality that Cus loved. After he told me I could do something, I believed I could do it. I would upset Cus – & # 39; Do you think that if I do that, I could be a champion someday? & # 39; I was always an extremist. I worked out all day and then masturbated. "
Eighteen consecutive months spent in drug rehab a few years ago helped him to understand. He learned that drawing boundaries between this monstrous old self and the guy he is trying to become will simply not work.
"I can say that I want to be a new guy, but burying the champion is not going to happen," he says. "I won't be successful when I bury that guy. All my life I've been trying to bury that guy. That's why nothing good came out of it. I have to hug him. I have to hug him."
As we drive, Tyson points out a handful of homeless people. "But this is nothing," he says. "If you go straight up here" – and he points further north of Las Vegas, where he knows the homeless drug addict community even better.
I happened to drive around that place the night before, I tell Mike and Kiki, and there was a guy showing drivers a sign that said just: hos and scam.
"I think he was letting you know what he was going to do with the money," says Kiki.
"When I was in rehab [in 2007]"says Tyson, remembering something important", I dated this girl over there and she used to call me when I was relapsing, check if I'm okay.
"One day I'm going to see her," he continues, "and she says, 'I understand that I can't compete with coup and & # 39; ho, there is no way I can compete with these things & # 39;' .
There was only one thing to tell the girl about this.
"Sorry," says Tyson, barely audible, like a child who suddenly discovers that what he's been doing for some time is wrong. As if it hadn't occurred to him, until that moment, what an idiot he was being to her. "This was one of the greatest moments of my life, in the recovery program".
Just out of that rehab, he called Kiki, and the two started talking. After Kiki was fired from a job in New York as a marketing executive for a clothing company, she accepted Tyson's offer to come to Vegas. They had known each other since she was a teenager, when her stepfather, who had connections in boxing, introduced them. "He was always respectful," she says. "He was very, very respectful." When they met in Las Vegas during the Felix Trinidad-Fernando Vargas fight in 2000, when she was 24, he invited her into his home. She fell deeply in love with Tyson while getting to know his story with women.
This time, however, he was sober, and they were finally really together. Kiki became pregnant with Milan. Then came a series of relapses.
"I remember looking on the Internet and seeing if he was alive or dead or if he had been arrested," said Kiki later. "There was a heart attack scare. After his birthday, there was a report that Mike Tyson died at a birthday party with friends, from heart complications, and I just lost it. Milan was 7 months old. Oh, my God! the coroner – nothing. And then he enters the house a day and a half later. "
Kiki, of course, wanted to kill him. Mike thought it was funny. "He didn't understand. But he does now. He's constantly apologizing for getting me through this."
At the job fair, Tyson tells me about the continuing threat of relapse.
"I need to call [my addiction sponsor] when I'm at the peak of my life, "he says. And then Tyson plays with the problem." This is the devil telling me: ‘All the best is happening. Why can't you do shit, Mike? A line. Listen, Mike, a line – an 8 ball fucked us, but a line, Mike, is not going to fuck us. Two or three lines are not. An eight-ball gave us a beating, Mike. You deserve it. You deserve it all – you're leaving. You haven't been a girl in the past two years. You deserve it, Mike! You really deserve this. You need a reward, Mike.
I ask if he talks to Kiki about this internal dialogue. They married in 2009 just 11 days after the death of their daughter, Exodus, from an accident on a treadmill at her mother's home. Tyson felt so angry that he ran out of rock bottom again. He was largely away from his other children (he was eight in total), and Kiki, firm, loving and positive, was just what he desperately needed.
"I talk to Kiki about everything."
TYSON EVERY EVERY woman at the fair – women who come from broken families, women who have been abused. He grabs their hand in his and leans towards them to whisper hope.
And hot. In conversation, he clings with that old intensity – very close – his eyes narrowed right there. It is the opposite of his old dead-eye ring look. He puts his hand on you as he speaks. He has a narrow, cheerful mustache, like Bob Dylan's. And his face, Maori warrior tattoo and everything, is … gentle.
"Something my wife doesn't know is that I am these people," he says, meaning these women. "This is my life. These people are who I am. My wife does not stay here" – Tyson means this metaphorically. "This is my community."
I tell him I understand – he knows people like that.
"No," he says. "I don't know people like that – I I am this person. Sometimes, these people are also ashamed that I was. I'm just starting to like myself. I'm basically a son of a bitch, but I'm starting to like myself. "
In Brownsville, Brooklyn, in the 1970s, Tyson's childhood was serious. Your father was never really in the picture. When the conversation becomes the warmest memory of his mother, dead 30 years ago, Tyson is silent for a good minute. He often invokes his old self with serenity. As painful as it may be, he can access that person – who he was before, how it all started.
"I don't know," he finally says. "Taking me to school. There were pimps, players, parties. Lots of shit." When he was still young, Tyson once lent his mother $ 200, money he stole from someone, and when he later asked for it back, his mother beat him for his audacity. "I gave you your life," she told him. He slept in the same bed as his mother until he was 16 years old. Until she dies.
"I don't like this guy," he says. "Mike Tyson, the worst man on the planet, slept with his mother until he was 16 and she died. I don't like how it can be seen scientifically, from a Freudian perspective."
However, he exposes it nonetheless. He has no precise conclusions or perhaps no conclusions as he struggles with his feelings towards his mother. For a long time after she died, Tyson did not sleep in beds, preferring floors or sofas. He says the only way to talk about his mom on stage without breaking is to follow the script – that way he is acting instead of remembering.
"We are animals trying to be people, as Mark Twain said," he says when it comes to how men treat women. "And just like at school, some of us pass the test before others. I struggled to become a human being. I was in the animal category for too long."
"I am a domesticated d —. "We are back at Kiki's Porsche, returning home from northern Las Vegas, and he is talking about how he is now able to do things." I don't believe my life is like this. I had all this money and all this fame and I couldn't finish it. My responsibilities before were just going to the gym and running the people around me – & # 39; Do this, do that & # 39 ;. That was all I did. "
I wonder if he is interested in making a lot of money again, perhaps through acting. Tyson and those who suck the roof of his career went through the $ 400 million he earned from boxing. He still owes millions to the IRS. Now he makes money from appearances and recommendations – in mid-May, he and Kiki had arrived from Poland, where he supports an energy drink. The play went well. And now Tyson is scheduled to voice a detective in an Adult Swim cartoon called "Mike Tyson Mysteries". He will solve strange crimes with a dirty-mouthed pigeon companion. (He's willing to play pigeon sports, like just about every aspect of his past, but there's no mistaking their place in his psyche. "They connect me to my childhood," he says softly. "They make me believe that everything that happened to me is not a lie. ")
"Do you know what's so funny about that?" he says about the prospect of further gains. "I work hard to strive and I want this to happen, but I am very happy with my children and my wife respecting me, and we are getting along. [money] things – that could start another way out of trouble. "
"I think it would have been more difficult if everything happened in our first year, but now we are quite solid, so if the money came, it would be like it was no big deal." (Later, she will confide that when they met five years ago, Mike's relative poverty was a good thing. "He couldn't play quiet money with me," she says. Instead, they had to work through their problems. )
"I kind of disagree," says Mike now, regarding Kiki's claim that getting rich again wouldn't ruin everything.
"Well, you are the same person who told Oprah [in 2009] that if you lost weight, you would start cheating again, "says Kiki." You didn't do that. "
Tyson admits it is true. With Kiki, he gave up control and showed what he would have considered an abominable weakness earlier. "We got into arguments and she leaves the house," says Tyson, to whom his reaction is "& # 39; Please don't go, please don't go & # 39; & # 39 ;. Before I went, & # 39; Get this shit out of here, b —-. & # 39; I can't believe it – I would have looked like such a weak n, begging her to come back, but other b —- es don't have mine heart.
"I may have beaten her," he continues, pondering. "I could have kicked your ass, boom, alright, b —-."
His "before" scenario with women does not include raping a beauty contestant in 1991. This is an accusation that Tyson vehemently denies and a conviction that he contests, and in "Undisputed Truth", he only mentions: "I don't rape Desiree Washington ".
However, at the same time, Tyson acknowledges that he probably deserved time in prison for the pain, humiliation and abuse that he has caused women over time. "There is no doubt," he says. "We, as people – men -, in my experience, are told that we are superior to women, they come from our ribs and this and that. That is all our insecurity, to make us feel like someone, like a master of I am so happy to have reached a stage in my life, a paradigm shift. All I believed was a lie. "
MIKE TYSON E I sit on a couch in his living room, a simple room with white walls, some pictures of the fight and a big TV. The guy in the pictures – Iron Mike – seems so distant from the man now talking about his life.
I read him something he said to Ira Berkow of The New York Times ten years ago: "Do you know what it's like to wake up being me every day? That's why whenever someone disrespects me, I will kill you." I was in prison. Do you think I care to go back? I am very comfortable there. This is my environment. I'm bad when I'm locked up. Trust me. I will make you do what I want. and you can't stop me. "
"He's a dark and scary little boy," Tyson replies calmly. "This is a dark and scary child."
But it's only been 10 years!
"Hey, I've only been living this life for three years. I've been doing this for three and a half years. What I'm looking for now is that no one will ever see that child again.
"He's still there, the scared boy." He points through his den. "See that corner? When I look at that corner, it reminds me of my mom putting me in a corner, or some bully poking me, hitting me and hitting me on the corner. I'm cringing, not seeing. I was looking at that corner, thinking about it. I have to protect the little boy inside, who's still inside me. "
A quarter of a century ago, when Tyson had just been crowned the youngest heavyweight champion in the world at age 20, writer Joyce Carol Oates spent some time with him. "If, in a sense, like other famous athletes of our time," she wrote, "Mike Tyson is a child, he is also a mature man, even if strangely mature – a 20-year-old like no other I have ever met. . "At that time, manipulated by the team of Cus D & # 39; Amato after the death of the trainer, Tyson seemed to be in control, a machine built to fight. Now, face to face on the couch discussing much of the years to come, Tyson is in charge of a new skill, possessing his own past.
"That's why I stopped being embarrassed about my life and hating my life, because without this guy you can't see how far I've grown. You can see the nadir, now you can see my zenith. That alone makes superman, as Nietzsche said. Make me superman. "
Freud. Two. Nietzsche. Now he is working on Plato: know yourself.
Suddenly, the organization's voice – Kiki – joins us with an intercom alert:
"Yes, baby?" Says Tyson.
"I'm giving you a 15-minute warning. We have to leave for the Milan march" – a parade and party that afternoon at her school.
"I want to change clothes then, okay?"
"Do you want me to do something for you?"
"Would you be kind enough to do that, lover?"
"Thank you dear."
"So maybe 10 minutes and five minutes to change."
Kiki hangs up.
He smiled. "I like to be cheated, you know. I am cheated because I want to feel like a human being."