Did you enjoy hurting people? ‘Yes. Yes.’

Mike tyson photographed
at his home in Henderson,
nevada, by Joe Pugliese
earlier this month
ExclusivE intErviEw
Did you enjoy hurting people?
‘Yes. Yes.’
Did you fear you might kill?
‘I was so disappointed that I didn’t’
In the boxing ring, he relished being the
bad guy. In real life, he didn’t know when
to stop. Mike Tyson tells Janice Turner
he just wants to be loved
Tyson with boxing
coach Cus D’Amato
outside the trainer’s
home in the Catskills,
New York, 1985
previous spread: joe pugliese/august.
this page: ken regan/camera 5 inc
tell Mike Tyson what my women friends
said when they heard I was coming
to interview him – that rapist, that
monster! – and he teeters on the edge of
anger. “Hey, I’m not trying to convince
nobody. If you believe that, God
bless you,” he says. “I’m not trying to
convince you, and I’m living my life
now. Everybody else is null and void.”
His autobiography, Undisputed Truth,
certainly doesn’t hide his obsessive and prolific
womanising. By his own account, his sexual
tastes were indiscriminate: fat, beautiful, old,
thin, supermodel Naomi Campbell, a 50-yearold checkout clerk in Kmart, hookers he met
in strip clubs. The book recounts times when
he’d bed four different women, then still at
midnight be looking for another with whom to
spend the night. Travelling America, he built
up banks of girlfriends in every city.
Neither does the book paint him as a
tender lover. He made sex tapes to watch with
his friends, who dubbed his technique the
Womb Shifter or Pelvis Pulveriser. Even after
he was baptised in church by Jesse Jackson, he
sloped off to screw a choir girl. He describes
orgies, inviting his bodyguards to share a girl.
He recalls how his first wife, the actress
Robin Givens, knew he was unfaithful by
the lipstick marks on his tracksuit bottoms.
Then there is the matter of Desiree
Washington, the 18-year-old beauty queen
whom, in 1991, he invited back to his hotel
room; he was sentenced to six years, serving
three, for her rape.
In photographs there is no light in Mike
Tyson’s eyes. Even in youthful glory, as he
holds aloft a just-won boxing belt or, more
recently, celebrates a Golden Globe with the
cast of The Hangover, his eyes look dead. In
bad-boy mode, in police cuffs or sledging an
opponent at a weigh-in, those eyes look mad.
It is easy to believe they are the eyes of a
rapist, killer, brute, knucklehead, street punk:
they contain no play or humour or warmth.
Even when Tyson smiles, his eyes stay cold.
But as he sits beside me, in a tight black
T-shirt, his tattooed arms so pumped he must
hold them always at an angle to his barrel
chest, I realise all those photos deceive:
Tyson’s eyes are sad. For all his swagger
and physical power, he has an air of being
damaged and lost, with a tissue-thin skin
born of low self-esteem that causes him to
prickle at every perceived slight.
We are discussing his mother, Lorna Mae,
who gave up on him at 7, told by the school
that he was retarded and hyperactive,
proscribed not merely Ritalin but Thorazine, a
heavy-duty anti-psychotic. “She thought that I
was a criminal,” he writes in his autobiography,
“and I would die or never turn out to be s***.”
Such a withdrawal of love, particularly
as he was a “Momma’s boy” who shared her
bed until his teens, must never stop hurting.
“Well,” says Tyson softly. “I wasn’t a good kid.
She wasn’t proud of me; she was proud of my
brother. He stayed on at school and did things.
I was bad though. I used to steal from people.
When my mother’s boyfriends came to the
house, got drunk and fell asleep, I would go in
their pockets and take their money. Nobody
was safe around me. No one trusted me.”
Yet he does not blame her, is not angry or
vengeful. Rather – and, unexpectedly, I find
this pains my heart – Tyson does not believe
himself worthy of her love. Not that he ever
stopped chasing it; bringing her newspaper
cuttings about his first amateur boxing
victories she couldn’t be bothered to read.
The Times Magazine 21
manny millan/sports illustrated/getty images
With Camille Ewald,
Cus D’Amato’s wife, in
her home in 1985
And even after she died, when he was 16 years
old, he chased it still, in those many, often
joyless, conquests.
Why so many women, I ask. “It was like
a drug,” he says. “Chasing a feeling. You’d
want that feeling again; you’d keep chasing it.”
Was it just sexual satisfaction, or about being
wanted? “I don’t know,” says Tyson, looking
awkward. “Maybe there was a love factor
there.” Really? “It was like, if they weren’t the
right one, maybe the next one would be. Or
the next one.” So you kept going until you
found her? Tyson’s head goes down to his
chest, like a mortified child.
“I don’t know. It’s really embarrassing
talking to you about it. Hell, I don’t want to
come across as the big, black buck and stuff…
I was always taught that the more women you
conquer contributes to you being a greater
man, that you were somebody, but in all
actuality, it takes so much away from you.”
How many times were you in love? “Every
time I slept with somebody. Pretty much.
Maybe my level of love with them wasn’t at
the degree where I would marry them, but
I was in love with them when I was with
them.” You told them that? “I always told
them I loved them. Straightaway.”
22 The Times Magazine
‘I have a grand view of
myself, in my own thick
head, that I’m special. And
then the reality comes in’
At which point Larry Sloman, the
co-writer of Undisputed Truth, interjects to
say he has written biographies of promiscuous
men, including Howard Stern and Gene
Simmons of the rock band Kiss: “They were
all f*** ’em and forget ’em guys. The sexual
act was all about them getting off. Mike wasn’t
like that. Mike was concerned with pleasing
the woman, which was very interesting to me.”
And then Tyson’s old friend Mario chips in:
“Then if he was with a girl for a week, he
would buy them a house.”
“I was really a big schmuck,” says Tyson,
shaking his head. “El schmucko, the f***er.”
Tyson has always maintained he did not
rape Desiree Washington and the book makes
a strong case that, before a court in Indiana
with just three black jurors (one dropping
out before the verdict), combined with his
reputation, he stood little chance of a fair trial.
Ms Washington, it later transpired, had eight
months earlier pressed a false rape charge
against the high-school boy to whom she’d lost
her virginity, after her father found out. Tyson
appealed against his conviction and lost.
Even during Tyson’s three years in prison,
he contrived to have regular sex. At first he’d
invite girlfriends or fans to visit and they’d
make out on picnic tables away from the
eyes of guards. When that was discovered, he
targeted his middle-aged drug counsellor. She
was reluctant at first, but he had a friend take
$10,000 round to her house and, next day,
wearing make-up and her best dress, she
summoned him to her office. When she
became pregnant, he paid for her abortion.
While his three wives have all been
accomplished, educated women – Givens was
a rising star, Monica Turner is a doctor and
his current wife, Kiki Spicer, trained in Italy as
a fashion designer – it was as though he didn’t
feel worthy of them, was drawn back always
to the hustling lowlifes with whom he had
grown up. “I guess because of my mother, her
lifestyle, those are the kind of women that
getty images, globe photos
I’ve been susceptible to. Very smart, tricky,
slick, nasty bitches. Moral-less women.”
So you never wanted a nice, kind girl?
“She may have been too boring.” Because your
mother was exciting in some ways. “I think my
mother was exciting, yeah. Very exciting.”
Lorna Mae’s own hard-working mother,
a maid for a liberal white family, had put her
through three years of college. She’d hoped
to train as a teacher when Tyson’s father fell
ill and she left work to nurse him. After her
husband deserted the family, she lost her
job as a prison matron and her life spiralled
downwards; she left a respectable workingclass district of Brooklyn for the run-down
semi-criminal neighbourhood Brownsville,
where she made money by turning her squalid
apartment into a drunken card den. Tyson
remembers her having sex with a man while
he slept in the same bed. “They’d drink, fight
and f***, break up, then drink fight and f***
some more,” he writes of his mother and
boyfriend Eddie. “They were truly in love,
even if it was a really sick love.”
But it was not just Lorna Mae who didn’t
love Mike Tyson; the world never liked him
much either. As I watch him talk, restless and
uneasy, looking at times as if he might bolt
out of the New York Ritz’s private lounge,
I wonder what animal he most resembles. A
bull, maybe: that dense bulk with a low centre
of gravity, since he is short for a heavyweight,
just 5ft 10in, and weighs more than 16 stone.
Or a tiger, like Kenya, the cub he owned
during his most grandiose years. Certainly his
entourage this evening – his ballsy ItalianAmerican publicist JoAnn, Sloman and Mario
– are watchful of his moods, distracting him
24 The Times Magazine
‘I was taught that the
more women you conquer
contributes to you being
a greater man. But it takes
so much away from you’
Clockwise from top
left: with his first
wife, Robin Givens, in
1988; with (from left)
daughters Mikey and
Milan, wife Kiki and
son Morocco, 2013;
with his second wife,
Monica Turner, in 2003
when they fear a question might make
him fractious. I’d heard he was ringing the
bell this morning at the New York Stock
Exchange, but when I raise this he shakes his
head sadly: “No, they don’t let no broke guy
ring that bell,” he says. JoAnn is quick to say,
soothingly, that it was a mere logistical matter:
“We’ll get you ringing that bell, Mike.”
Bull or tiger, I’ve just done what everyone
has always done to Mike Tyson: dehumanise
him. Indeed, he does it to himself. “Damn,
you’re really an animal,” he says of the
Brownsville kid he once was. “You live below
the starving level, you’d do anything to
survive, and I hate to think of myself like that.
Living in the slums, in buildings with stray
dogs and cats and germs and rats… I have a
grand view of myself, in my own thick head,
that I’m special. You know what I mean? And
then the reality comes in. No matter how
much money and fame you’ve got.” He lowers
his head to his chest again and looks so
ashamed I repress the urge to give him a hug.
He didn’t write the book earlier, he says,
because he couldn’t face picking the scab
off his childhood wounds. “The guys I grew
up with, those that’s not dead or in prison,
they don’t talk about the past. You bring stuff
up and they say, ‘F*** that s***, Mike. We’re
doing this now.’ They just don’t talk about it.
I think about my past and it takes away all
my dignity sometimes.”
Does he not look at his ten-year-old self
with compassion now? “No, anything that
happened to him was good for him. Good
therapy for him.” And without that upbringing,
would you have had the aggression to be
world champion? “Oh, no way,” Tyson says.
getty images
“Look at my kids. The only difference between
me and my children – they all go to private
schools and the older ones are Ivy League kids
[his eldest daughter is set to study chemistry
at Georgetown] – is if I’d had love, I would be
just like them.
“And I look at them and think, ‘They may
be tough and strong, but they don’t have that
desire to be violent and hurt somebody.’ And
I’m happy that they don’t.”
Did he enjoy hurting people? He hit
so hard that 44 of his 58 fights ended in
knockouts, often within minutes. “Yes, yes!”
Tyson cries. Did he fear he might kill?
“Yes, but I was so disappointed that I didn’t.
Although I’m happy now that I didn’t.”
On hearing another fighter had killed an
opponent, he’d think: “How come he did it?
He’s not as ferocious as I am. How did he kill
somebody? That guy must have been sick
already or something.”
“I guess I was a young kid, and I was so
insecure, I always wanted to be the centre of
attention,” he says. “I never was that before.
This power, this attention, it was like… a
narcotic. I’m sorry to sound so gross.”
Talking with Tyson, I am reminded of
interviewing Camila Batmanghelidjh from
the charity Kids Company. She showed me
brain scans of two children: one was loved; the
other from an abusive home. In the area that
contains the brain’s calming mechanisms, the
latter child had only a void. Overexposure
to fright hormones when young rewires the
brain, so that often the only thing that can
bring a feeling of peace is to commit a violent
act. Maybe it also creates great fighters.
By the time Tyson was 13 he had robbed
and burgled his way into every juvenile facility
in New York City. When arrested again, for
possessing stolen property, he was sent upstate
to reform school. But after a vicious fight he
ended up in Elmwood, a lock-down for the
toughest of kids, where a warden would throw
boys in the boxing ring. Tyson took a massive
blow to the stomach and was hooked. Noting
his precocious strength, the warden took him
to meet Cus D’Amato, a veteran coach who
had discovered Floyd Patterson and José
Torres. After he had sparred for two rounds,
Tyson heard D’Amato say, “That’s the
heavyweight champion of the world.”
With the reform school’s permission, Tyson
moved in with D’Amato, a left-wing ItalianAmerican who’d grown up in the Bronx,
admired Ché and Fidel and despised Reagan.
When Lorna Mae died of cancer, amid poverty
and chaos, D’Amato and his Ukrainian wife,
Camille, informally adopted Tyson.
This was the happiest time in his life:
Tyson utterly focused on becoming a
champion but, more importantly, on pleasing
D’Amato, whom he adored as a father.
(Tyson’s own father – although not his
26 The Times Magazine
Tyson defeats Trevor
Berbick to become
world heavyweight
champion, aged 20, in
Las Vegas in 1986
‘I was over my head. I was
developing as a fighter at
such a rapid pace, and my
brain wasn’t catching up’
biological one, whom he never met – was a
notorious Brooklyn pimp who deserted his
family.) “I was the perfect guy for his mission
– broken home, unloved, destitute,” Tyson
writes of D’Amato. “I was hard and strong,
and sneaky, but I was still a blank chalkboard.”
Suddenly his life had discipline and
purpose. Throughout his mid-teens all he did
was train, run, spar, read boxing books, watch
videos of great fighters, often falling asleep in
his gloves. He copied the moves of Joe Louis,
Henry Armstrong and Benny Leonard; he
even started talking in a high-pitched voice
to sound like Jack Dempsey. People would
mock him, “but I had the voice of a killer. Jack
Dempsey was a killer.” So you were playing
a part? “Yes, because I was s***, I was garbage,
I didn’t want to be who I was. I wanted to
emulate those guys.”
But D’Amato didn’t just train his body;
he worked on Tyson’s mind. He helped him
transmute the humiliation of being bullied
into courage and power. He had the kid who
left formal education at 7 read Hemingway
and Machiavelli. He gave him long, intense
lectures about mental tactics and inner
nobility: a general preparing a gladiator for
war. “If he told me I could learn how to
fly, I would try it,” says Tyson. “There was
nothing that he said that I doubted. I never
took anything he said as a lie. He said I could
control things with my mind; I believed it.
He gave me an ego… I never had that.”
Everyone else branded Tyson a no-mark,
“but Cus never gave up on me, even when
I was acting stupid. He knew I wanted to
be special. He wanted people to look up to
me.” Decades later, after he’d been declared
bankrupt, Tyson discovered D’Amato had
taken out an IRA – a modest pensions savings
plan – in his name, a careful parental deed
that made him weep.
If only D’Amato hadn’t died when Tyson
was just 19, on the verge of greatness. “If he’d
lived, I’d still be fighting now,” he says. “Yeah,
Cus looked at it as a job. You’re getting beaten
up real bad, but you’re still working, you’re still
taking care of your family.”
It is easy to forget that Tyson was only
20 when he won the third of his belts to
become the youngest heavyweight world
champion in history. “I was a boy, a child,”
he says. “I was still going to 16th birthday
parties. I was still eating at Burger King,
having French-fry fights.”
Without D’Amato to contain and discipline
it, the ego he’d given Tyson ran rampant.
“I was totally over my head, you know? I was
developing as a fighter, and a man, at such a
rapid pace. And my brain wasn’t catching up.
My maturity could not keep up with the boom,
boom, boom, boom… Money, money, girls,
money, money. I was just some schmuck, a
young kid. I felt like I was still 15 years old.”
As part of his mind-training, D’Amato had
told Tyson that when he was a champion, he’d
have everything he’d ever wanted. “He said,
‘If you listen to me, “no” will be a foreign
language to you. You won’t understand it.
You will never hear it.’” So not such a good
lesson? “No,” says Tyson. “That was really bad.
Because I felt I had achieved my goals in life,
that I deserved everything I had.”
And that meant sex. Whatever happened
that night with Desiree Washington, Tyson
was sleeping with so many women, in such
chaotic and disruptive circumstances, that he
was destined for trouble. Most celebrities take
out restraining orders on their stalkers, Tyson
writes, “but I f***ed mine”. By his account
there were other women before and after
Desiree who wrongly tried to sue him for rape;
several others pressed paternity suits only to
be disproved by DNA tests.
D’Amato had no respect for the rich.
Money, he’d always said, should be thrown
from the back of the truck. And Tyson
certainly did that: he wanted the fun he
thought he deserved, had always lacked as
a kid; didn’t see the point in saving since he
never thought he’d live long. His generosity
was extraordinary: he’d give a $65,000
bracelet to a homeless guy; visiting Mexico,
he rounded up every street kid in town to buy
them new sneakers; he showered clothes and
jewellery upon every woman he slept with.
Once out of prison and married to Monica,
with whom he had two children, he quickly
won back two of his three belts and earned
$80 million. He also gave free rein to his
monumental libido. He describes with some
pride how, before rappers started buying
Dom Pérignon and Rolls-Royces, he invented
bling. He had a hot tub installed into one
limousine. Didn’t the water slosh around?
“No,” he says, laughing. “And I don’t kiss and
tell, but I had some really prominent women,
that your husband probably dreams about, in
that car. This is really sick s***, you know. Oh,
God. What did I do with my life?” Creased up
with laughter, he raises his Popeye arm and,
with his enormous, rough hand, gives me a
stinging high-five.
In his folie de grandeur, he created a vast
Scarface villa in Vegas, all done out in Versace,
and commissioned statues of great warriors
like Alexander the Great. On the East Coast
he bought the biggest house in Connecticut,
with 13 kitchens, its own moat, nightclub and
lighthouse. For his birthday, he filled each
of the 19 bedrooms with a different woman.
He once discovered a duffel bag containing
$1 million he’d forgotten he even had. In all,
he earned and squandered up to half a billion
dollars. When his tax bill came, he had his
people ignore it: he’d just pay it off after the
next fight. “When it came to money,” Tyson
writes, “I wasn’t a big details guy.”
Which made him easy prey for the hustlers,
gold-diggers and the hucksters of the boxing
world. His agent, the notorious Don King, has
been accused of encouraging his vices and
addictions. After our interview, I bump into
Tyson’s mother-in-law, who once worked
for King and is scathing about how he
encouraged Mike to mix with whores and
lowlifes. “If someone mixes with scum, they
feel they are scum,” she said. “And then he’d
need Don to deal with all the problems. It
bred dependency.”
It was under King’s influence that Tyson
ramped up his evil public image. He had
always been attracted to the villain in the
movie – “They remember the hero, but they
never forget the bad guy” – fought in plain
black shorts, with no crowd-pleasing theatrics.
While Muhammad Ali – handsome, charming,
witty and smart – won over white America,
Tyson was its worst nightmare: the punk from
the ghetto who ruled by pure violence, grabbed
all he wanted, just as he snatched gold chains
in Brownsville, and to hell with the rules.
Besides his drinking and prolific
womanising, which gave him gonorrhoea,
chlamydia “and all those other scientificnamed diseases”, he smoked weed and became
hooked on cocaine. He snorted three grams
a night, smoking it in cigarettes when his
‘If you could erase my
whole record, I would be
happy. I hate my boxing
career. I despised it’
nose started to fall apart. While he says he
was never high when fighting – he knew
drug traces would show up in his urine – he
obtained a “whizzer”: a fake penis that would
squirt out clean urine to fool the tester.
The day I meet Tyson, this story has
reached the British press, causing the boxing
promoter Frank Warren, who organised his
2000 fight against Lou Saverese in Glasgow,
to threaten to sue him. When I tell Tyson this,
he grows agitated, letting fly with a flurry of
abuse. “Frank Warren is such a w***er,” he
says, surprising me with his grasp of British
profanity. “Sad, old w***er.”
There are also, I say, mutterings about
removing his world titles retrospectively, as
they did after Lance Armstrong’s doping
scandal. “Good luck on taking my title. You
can have my belt. If you could erase my whole
record and act as if I had never even fought,
I would be the happiest man in the world.
I hate my boxing career. I despised it. I was
never really happy during that time.”
For years he avoided therapy or, if made to
attend by courts, lied to his shrinks. “Who are
they to know about my life? I just met them
ten minutes ago, and I’ve got to spill my guts?
Free of charge, too?” After endless rehab
and counselling, he has finally broken his
coke and booze problem, as he writes in an
epilogue. Then he adds a postscript, a primal
scream of self-loathing about how, in August,
he fell off his AA programme and got drunk.
Where once he was a street hound, he is
now a house dog. He seldom leaves his Vegas
home, lives quietly, trains, plays with his
kids; he has two with Kiki and had eight all
together (including a daughter, Exodus, who
died). He tends to his beloved pigeons, who
have been his most longstanding source of
peace since he kept them up on the roofs
of Brooklyn. His vices are now confined to
Call of Duty and Pinkberry frozen yoghurt.
Declared bankrupt in 2003 and still
millions in debt to the US tax man, he now
sees himself as an actor of sorts. He had
a cameo in both Hangover films and great
success with his one-man show, which was
later filmed by Spike Lee. It may come to
London in spring. By his old standards, he
lives modestly: but this, he says, makes it
easier to keep clean.
“Before, I was always cheating, but I’d
buy them a gift. I’d have power over them
with money,” he says. “Now I don’t have no
money. Now I do what they tell me to do. If
my wife gets mad and leaves the house, I’m
f***ed. I just learnt how to cook, in case she
decides to leave me. I don’t have any money
– how the hell am I going to eat? I either
have to go to somebody’s house or learn
how to cook.” Does he have a signature dish?
“Chicken and egg whites,” he says. “And
I know how to make salads now.” He reflects
for a moment: “It’s real s***, though.”
Critics have said that in his penury,
Tyson is selling the last thing he has: his
myth. Indeed, Tyson’s story has the sweep
of a legend. It is, whatever your view of
him, a monumental American life. But what
distinguishes his memoir is the depth of his
reflections: his thick Brooklyn accent, lisp and
malapropisms from lack of formal schooling
obscure a sharp and rather philosophical mind.
He starts to discourse on the difference
between the great and the good. “I have
encountered a lot of people who are entitled
to greatness, but not even one per cent of
them were good,” he says. “I like good things
better than great – but what is good? How do
you measure the two? Are they intertwined?”
“One day at a time,” says JoAnn cheerfully,
trying to wrap us up.
“One day?” says Tyson, shaking his head
ruefully. “One second at a time.” n
Undisputed Truth (HarperSport), by Mike Tyson
and Larry Sloman, is out now. Times+ members
can attend an event with Mike Tyson at Lancaster
London, W2, on December 12 at 6pm. Tickets
cost £10. To book, visit mytimesplus.co.uk
The Times Magazine 29