‘Baddest man on the planet’ reflects on life

Mike Tyson, the self-professed ”baddest man on the planet”, who did not believe he would reach the age of 40, is still alive and says he has been clean from drugs and alcohol for 15 months.

In a powerful interview granted just before he travelled to the Cannes film festival to promote a documentary about his life, the former world heavyweight champion said: ”I just say I’m not getting high today. I’m not promising them I’m not getting high tomorrow. I’m trying to figure it out. I’m in an abysmal world trying to figure it out.” This follows years of drug and alcohol abuse.

Now 41, Tyson is living just outside Las Vegas and owes the Internal Revenue Service millions of dollars, according to the interview, which is published in the New York Times. He says his film, Tyson, directed by James Toback, has led the former fighter, known for his high-profile rape conviction and brutish behaviour in the ring, to look back and repent. It cuts between clips of Tyson’s boxing career and interviews last year, when he was in rehab.

Speaking in Cannes on Saturday, Tyson said it was a ”miracle” that he was still alive. ”I’ve lived a wild and a strange life,” he said. ”I’ve used drugs, I’ve had physical altercations with dangerous people … I’ve slept with guys’ wives and they wanted to kill me. I’m just happy to be here. It’s just a miracle.” The film has been described as ”dark, intimate, violent”.

In the New York Times interview, Tyson had said he was ”embarrassed” about getting involved in the documentary: ”There’s a lot of information people didn’t need to know.” Nevertheless, the film premiered on Friday and Tyson is starting to put together a memoir, which will be ghostwritten by author Larry Sloman. It is all part of an effort that his advisers hope will bring Tyson back into a public role.

Along the way, the boxer will be forced to face a past that still haunts him. ”That’s very painful stuff,” he said, in a rare in-depth interview. ”I didn’t know how to be any other way. I felt like one of those barbarian kings just coming to conquer the Roman Empire. I was crazy.”

Speaking from his home in Nevada, he added: ”I don’t know who I am. That might sound stupid. I really have no idea. All my life I’ve been drinking and drugging and partying, and all of a sudden this comes to a stop.” With his a bowler hat set on top of his bald, tattooed head, he said that he was born an addict but that this was not to blame for his troubled life.

”I love addicts,” he said. ”I love these guys. That’s the people I want to be around. You know, former users. And I think that’s really crazy.”

When he was 19, Tyson told a reporter that what he wanted from life was ”peace of mind, a lot of money and to be a well-respected person”. A year later he knocked out Trevor Berbick and won the heavyweight title. Recalling the night, 22 years ago, he said: ”The day I won the title I got so drunk and high.”

Over the next two decades, Tyson’s life was filled with infamy, including a rape conviction, for which he served three years, and the 1997 fight from which he was disqualified after biting Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Today, Tyson hates talking about his boxing career and there are no trophies or photographs in his home. ”I don’t need to remember that,” he said. But he loves watching old films and talking more generally about boxing history: ”Gene Tunney, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, look at those guys. In the end, they say Gene Tunney became an alcoholic, but he married well, he did well. He was erudite.”

When Tyson was in prison, he spent many hours in solitary confinement reading the work of great philosophers, Toback told the New York Times, and today the boxer admires the work of Machiavelli and Tolstoy.

”Cool guys,” Tyson said. ”All these guys, for some bizarre reason, are in some bizarre pain. Machiavelli just wanted power. He wanted power and control. His whole game was about manipulation. Tolstoy was all about helping the poor. He was a communist, while his wife was a capitalist. And they had big fights over this.” — guardian.co.uk Â

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