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July 25, 2014

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Mike Tyson: Heavyweight champion of understatement is ready for next round

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Steve Marcus

Boxer Mike Tyson, former undisputed heavyweight champion, responds to a question during an interview at his home in Henderson Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Tyson will star in “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth - Live on Stage,” a one-man show on the Strip.

Mike Tyson to Star in 'Undisputed Truth'

Mike Tyson. Launch slideshow »

Mike Tyson had not expected to readily recall this moment of his life, this time a lifetime ago. But when Tyson starts to talk, the conversation careens and boomerangs in directions even he can’t foresee.

It was a moment when he was pulled over by two patrolmen in Los Angeles. This was the period when, for Tyson, being pulled over would lead to lockup, no question.

“I should be dead now, you know? The cops should have killed me,” Tyson says during a lengthy interview in his spacious Seven Hills home. A player piano, silent at the moment, is positioned next to a trophy case filled with title belts, gloves, shoes and photos. Behind him, a gentle waterfall spills over a thin glass plane and splashes into a small bed of rocks.

“The cops pulled me over one day. I was on coke; I was all drunk and high on cocaine, and I told the cops I was lost and couldn’t find my way around, and the cops drove me to the party,” he says. “Are you crazy? It was just before I went clean and sober. The cop who pulled me over, he says, ‘You were great in “Hangover,” ' and he drove me to the dope house, to a party.”

Tyson has once again amazed himself.

“Oh, God. I had no license. I had nothing. It was crazy!” he says, firing out words with the same tenacity as the combinations he used to dismantle opponents in his boxing heyday. “But he drove me there, and then he told the guy at the door, ‘You make sure Mike gets home. I’m going to come back here and make sure.’ Can you believe that (expletive?) When the cops left, everybody in the party left. I was like, ‘Hey! Hold on!’ but they all left. Showing up with cops will ruin the party!”

It is suggested that this story, one that unexpectedly came to Tyson at the tail end of an hourlong conversation, might be one to tell in his upcoming one-man show at MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre.

Tyson ponders that idea.

“You think so? I never thought about telling stories like that,” he says. “Oh, man, sometimes I’ve done some stupid stuff; immature, pompous things.”

•••

With that assertion, Tyson might be the heavyweight champion of understatement. The fact that he is still on this side of the grass is a testament to fate, remarkably good fortune and an inherent tenacity that carried him to the highest echelon of his sport. He’s been imprisoned -- in fact and, he says, metaphorically, in the recesses of his mind -- celebrated, mocked, vilified, lavishly rewarded and hopelessly addicted.

Tyson vs. Spinks

Mike Tyson Meet-and-Greet at Chateau

Mike Tyson's meet-and-greet at Chateau Nightclub & Gardens at the Paris on Sept. 16, 2011. Launch slideshow »

At every turn, his greatest moments (like the night in 1988 when he annihilated Michael Spinks in 91 seconds to retain his WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles) are countered by equally tragic, self-inflicted behavior (like the night in 1997 when he bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear and sent MGM Grand Garden Arena into a near riot).

But Tyson is in good order today. He has come out of it “still here and in good livin’ shape,” having lost 100 pounds from a high of about 300 pounds through exercise and a vegan diet. His eyes remain puffy with scar tissue from the cuts suffered over his career, and that famed tattoo still spreads darkly across the left side of his face.

Probably most important, though: Tyson has been clean and sober for 3 1/2 years. When he’s in his addiction, to use a casino term, all bets are off.

“It’s just one day (at a time). I know that because I might slip today," he says. “But I am disciplined about my sobriety. People who know me who have seen me out when I was drunk -- they never offer me a drink because when I do that, I am an animal. I don’t deserve anything under those circumstances.”

Today, the 45-year-old Tyson is comfortably reflective, willing and eager to talk about his life. He is a fountain of fascinating tales, inarguably one of the most compelling and controversial figures on the planet.

But what to do with all of this material? It seems a waste to spend it on an audience of one.

Instead, Tyson is bringing a dizzying autobiographical show to the stage in the very hotel where he gnawed Holyfield’s ears. Set to debut April 13 (fittingly, Friday the 13th) at MGM Grand's Hollywood Theatre is “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth -- Live on Stage.”

The show is booked to run through April 18. Tickets in the 740-seat theater are $91. A VIP package offering front-row seats, a meet-and-greet, a photo with Tyson and some sort of commemorative item (a ticket or a program) is offered at $499. Tickets go on sale at the MGM Grand box office and through Ticketmaster at 10 a.m. March 10.

The multimedia show will have Tyson working off of a loose script covering pivotal moments of his life and career.

Tyson says he will not shy away from any topic, including the death of his original trainer, Cus D’Amato (whom Tyson still reveres); his torrid series of knockouts that led to him becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history; his stormy marriage to Robin Givens; his three-year incarceration after being convicted of rape in 1992; his often-acrimonious relationship with promoter Don King; his recent projects, including the possibility of appearing in “The Hangover, Part 3” and an upcoming HBO series directed by Spike Lee titled “Da Brick” (a show based on Tyson’s life that he calls “a combination of ‘Entourage’ and ‘The Wire’"); the 2009 death of his 4-year-old daughter, Exodus; the current state of boxing; his thoughts about Muhammad Ali’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease; and his pride at being recently named to the celebrity wing of the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.

This isn’t to say all of those subjects will be broached every night. The show’s format is still in its infancy (Tyson doesn’t even start rehearsing until March 5). He might sing, as a pianist and a vocalist might well be in the final version of the show. He might take questions from the audience, too, opening up delicious possibilities of the boxing icon facing unexpected queries.

But there will be stories, for sure, and there is so much for Tyson to pick. He famously possesses a bounty of dramatic tales, and the former champ says he is up for the challenge of telling his story in an unvarnished manner.

“You’ll see some interesting stuff. We’ll have photos that go along with what I am talking about,” says Tyson, who has never been given due credit for his sense of humor. He is frequently hilarious, whether intentionally or otherwise, and often self-effacing. “For instance, you’ll see things about my birth. I’ll say, ‘My mother (snaps fingers) who is this lady, told me that this man (snaps fingers again) was my father. But this man (snaps fingers a third time) is on my birth certificate! Who is this man?’ ”

Tyson gives a taste of what he’s willing to uncork onstage when asked about the night he was disqualified for biting Holyfield on both ears. He turns the question on himself.

Tyson apologizes to Holyfield

Mike Tyson, Roberto Duran at Fight Nights Press Conference

Boxing legends Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran attend the Friday Night Fights press conference at the Cosmopolitan on July 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »

“People want to know, ‘What’s one of your biggest regrets?’ Wow, that ear-biting thing, that was a pretty big one!” he says, laughing at high volume. “That’s high on the scale! I should have thought that one through! If I had thought it through, it would have helped me a great deal financially … but I deserved everything I got. I was a real prick back then.”

•••

In a largely serendipitous turn of events, Tyson and his wife, Kiki (who, as co-producer of “Da Brick,” has already written much of the script for the MGM show) have partnered with Las Vegas producer Adam Steck. Tyson first arrived at the idea of hosting a “night with”-type of production as he watched Chazz Palminteri’s captivating performance in “A Bronx Tale” last fall at the Venetian.

“I was watching this show with Kiki, and I notice I’m feeling jittery,” he says. “I’m feeling, like, this is a good atmosphere. I think I can do that.”

Tyson told his wife and others close to him about this concept, which was not entirely new. Tyson has played the role of storyteller in visits to England and Ireland, years ago, sessions peppered with adult language and references that often sparked fistfights in the audience.

“If you’re in (the United Kingdom), you just give it to them full speed ahead. Just open up cannons and fire at ’em,” he says. "But this was 2004, 2005 -- even as far back as 2002. I was at a state of my life where I didn’t think anyone would be interested in me. I was using drugs, I wasn’t really, um, keeping good maintenance with myself. I gained a tremendous amount of weight, and it was really dark, you know? But they loved it. I had American people fighting with British people. One night a guy shouted something at me, and another guy shouts, ‘Shut up!’ and there’s a fight going on! That was OK with me. I still have the spirit of a barroom brawler.”

•••

As Tyson mused about bringing a more, shall we say, refined version of this performance to Vegas, Steck had the same idea. Already producer of some of the city’s more uniquely entertaining shows, among them Human Nature and “Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas” at Imperial Palace and Thunder From Down Under and “The Australian Bee Gees Show” at Excalibur, Steck was working out with his personal trainer when the idea hit him that a show starring Tyson might work in Vegas.

Tyson in 'The Hangover'

Mike Tyson at Memorabilia International

Mike Tyson with fans at Memorabilia International. Launch slideshow »

“I was doing sit-ups with Matthew Fardell (company manager of Thunder) and noticed these old boxing gloves on his shelf. They were a pair of Sonny Liston’s gloves, and he was trying to get Mike Tyson to sign them,” Steck says. “For some reason, it sparked interest. The ‘Hangover’ movies were out, and people were starting to like Mike Tyson. I knew he lived in Las Vegas, and he was doing (memorabilia) signings. I just had a crazy idea.”

An online search for Tyson’s manager turned up a lot of nothing -- 10 individuals matching that particular search. But during the following week, Steck was at M Resort’s spa and spotted former welterweight title-holder Zab Judah in the locker room. Steck asked the spa attendant if it was common for famous people to visit the health club, and the attendant reeled off names of some noteworthy figures who visit M Resort and stopped at "Mike Tyson."

“So I asked, ‘I know this is a long shot, but do mind giving Mike my card?’ ” says Steck, an avid enough fight fan that he can accurately identify Zab Judah from across a health-club locker room. “Three days later, I get a call from Kiki Tyson, who says they would love to talk about this. Three days after that, we’re meeting at his house, and Kiki had already written this great script for the show.”

To direct and co-write the production, Steck hired L.A.-based playwright Randy Johnson, whose credits include "Elvis The Concert" and "One Night With Janis Joplin." Johnson also directed Pope Benedict's most recent appearance in New York. Yes, the same person who directed the Pope is now working with Mike Tyson. As Don King says, "Only in America."

Tyson was skeptical, at least initially, about Steck’s interest.

“In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘One of my friends must have heard me say something after the (“Bronx Tale”) show and set this up,” Tyson says, his eyes flashing. “I thought, ‘Someone sent this guy to me as a prank.’ ”

Nope. The only jokes will be the ones Tyson makes about himself. No matter how the five shows play out, he relishes the role of Strip ambassador.

Click to enlarge photo

A statue of boxing legend Joe Louis stands outside Caesars Palace's race and sports book.

“They thought about Joe Louis, that it was deplorable for him to be a host at a casino, Caesars Palace,” Tyson says. “Let me tell you something, right now: The last five years of heavyweight champions, ask any of them if they would be a host at Caesars Palace. They would love it … Joe Louis was ahead of his time. That whole thing was ahead of its time.

“Me, I want to be a host. Lemme be a host for a Strip hotel. I have a show, and it’s gonna be good. You’ll love it.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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