Mike Tyson has lived most of his life in the public eye, famous for his skills as a boxer and infamous for most everything else. His story has been well-documented, from his hardscrabble childhood in Brooklyn to his heavyweight championships to his years in jail to his drug addiction.
Tyson is now touring the country, offering a personal account of his life in the one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, written by his wife, Kiki Tyson, and directed by Spike Lee. The play, which had a limited Broadway run last August, travels to cities across the country this spring.
After seeing A Bronx Tale, Chazz Palminteri's one-man autobiographical play, the Tysons were inspired to have a go at the piece. "Mike said to me, 'Honey, I can do that,'" says Kiki, who has been writing for several years. "He does meet-and-greets overseas, and usually spends about 45 minutes talking to the crowd. He felt we could format what he does into a real show." The first, and substantially different, version of the play was staged — without Lee — in Las Vegas in April 2012.
Neither of the Tysons envisioned the show as a vehicle to burnish the image of a guy once called the "baddest man on the planet," but Kiki says it has had that effect. "That was never the point," she says. "I already know who he is, and I don't care if the world knows who he is or not. Mike just loves to entertain, and he wanted to do the show as a personal challenge. But it's a blessing that people are getting to know him. He can be intense and serious and highly emotional, and also loving and gentle. He's super witty and very funny. On some level, the show has been very therapeutic for him, and I give Spike a lot of credit. He pushed things out of Mike that I did not want to push him on, because instinctively I wanted to protect this person I love. But the show made him more comfortable discussing things that were very uncomfortable for him for many years, like being falsely accused of rape, of biting [Evander Holyfield's] ears, and the death of his daughter."
Although Tyson went to jail for rape, he has always maintained his innocence.
There is very little in the play about his exploits in the boxing ring, but he does talk extensively about the man who made his career, his mentor Constantine "Cus" D'Amato. "He wanted people to understand why he believed he was the baddest man on the planet," says Kiki. "Cus brainwashed Mike, in a sense, and made him believe he was the greatest. Mike would have done anything for Cus. You want to believe you're worth something, especially when everyone's telling you you're worthless."
Kiki and Mike were married in 2009, after six years of a tempestuous on-again, off-again relationship. They have two children together; Mike has six additional children, including his late daughter, Exodus. He has been clean for more than three years, and Kiki says that many credit her for the change, but she says otherwise. "I give Mike all the credit. You can't change anyone. You can be an influence for change, but people only change when they're ready. And Mike was ready. He was tired of living the kind of life he'd been living, and he knew that if he didn't make a change, he'd be dead. He didn't want that to be his legacy — a guy that was once great but never amounted to anything. It was a struggle, but he did it. And I'm so proud of him."
(This feature appear in the March 2013 subscription issue of Playbill. Want to subscribe?)