Mike Tyson’s Endless Thirst

I once saw Mike Tyson in an airport. I always thought boxers would be huge, you know, six feet four inches, all brawn and sinew. Perhaps because I was expecting something completely unlike Tyson did it take a few seconds to recognize who and what I was looking at. He is about five feet eight inches tall, and as wide as a doorway. His neck was fat as a basketball. Looking at him, I felt both that weird satellite uplink pause of oh, wow, a celebrity, and also oh my God, he is a monster.

He was surrounded by people. His entourage was pushing people out of the way. He looked like the consummate boxing celebrity, smiling and smirking, walking through the people who were asking for his autograph.

The moment passed but the impression was lasting. Years went by and I heard stories about him biting off somebody’s ear and I thought of course he did; he’s a wild animal. Anytime you go in the ring with him, you’re basically fighting an animal without any regard for human life. He was mean, like a dog trained to attack anything and anyone.

Later still I heard he lost some money, then made it again. Went to prison for rape. Had a giant tribal looking tattoo inked over his already ugly face. He converted to Islam. He lost all his money again. And I heard he raised pigeons.

Reluctantly I started to think that was kind of cool. I love pigeons; I imagine a time when human beings called them doves, and welcomed them into our gardens. I know their sweetness and their soothing songs. So it appealed to me to think of Mike Tyson loving the tiny fluttery creatures. Did they calm him? Is he calmed down at all?

Somehow, his enjoyment of the doves makes him seem reformed.

Tyson doesn’t seem very smart and I don’t think those blows to the head helped matters. He doesn’t seem to have any self-awareness.

But there is something about him that seems open to life. He doesn’t seem to care that he’s broke, or that he’s no longer anywhere close to the best boxer in the world. I am not talking just about the stubborn will to survive, which most people have innately. I mean, he seems to have the desire to seek out new things.

I can’t bring myself to like him, even in the most remote sense. But as long as he has his pigeons, I think we’re all safe from him.

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  1. Watch Tyson (2008) … he’s self-aware, no doubt. Most of the movie is his own analysis of his life. Open to life as well. He has not given up on himself.

  2. Were you thinking of this old Bill Simmons story from 2003? Old story, of course…. perhaps even where you heard about Tyson and his pigeons…. but I thought it may be relevant.

  3. You have to see the documentary about him – mentioned by J. It is absolutely fascinating. And yes, he comes across as self-aware, believe it or not, and brilliant when it comes to fighting. He’s a scholar about boxing. He recently lost his young daughter in a tragic accident in his own home, and I felt horrible when I heard the news.

    And honestly, I know biting someone’s ear off is bad, but when you see the play-by-play of that fight, I don’t know … I kinda thought he had a point.

    I was in an elevator with him once. His agent worked in the building where I worked. He stood in front of me. He was dressed to the nines – but elegantly, not garishly. His neck was wider than my torso. He smelled like a million bucks. Immaculate. But just HUGE. You really don’t get how huge he is until you see him in person surrounded by normal-sized human beings. HUGE.

    See the documentary though. James Toback (old friend of Tyson) directed – so it’s not objective at all – and neither should it be.

  4. And that rape charge? Ridiculous. End of story.

  5. I should say “in my opinion” instead of “end of story”, because I am not the arbiter of stories ending – but in my opinion, that entire thing was a travesty.

  6. Cara Ellison says:

    Okay, I definitely will have to see the movie. I like Tyson, don’t get me wrong. He’s amazing. But wow, he challenges me.

  7. Me too. I think the film really delves into that. Everyone has at least some emotion about him. It’s really interesting to hear him speak for himself. I think you’ll flip about it, cara. Likable or no, he is certainly FASCINATING.

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