The first time I recall scaring my mother I was still in elementary school. I was straight A student, running for class president, pegged as ‘one of the good ones’ by church and family. Anyway, I remember making a comment along the lines of “being on top of the world and still having nothing.” All of us experience loneliness, and we all learn to handle it and cope with it in different ways. James Toback’s new film Tyson isn’t a great documentary, a great sports movie, or a great biography. If you have had any interest in Mike Tyson in the past 20 years, I don’t think there’s anything here you haven’t seen or heard before. But what this movie does a GREAT job of doing is, through Mike’s telling of his own story, get you to understand that this man has always been lonely. Not just now that he’s broke, not just from his time in prison. When he was the Champ, when he was married, when he was running through God only knows how many women over the years, Mike has always been lonely. It’s something I picked up many years ago; being surrounded by people isn’t automatically the same thing as being part of a group.
Every sports fan definitely knows Mike’s story, but it’s hard for me to simplify what he symbolized to kids of my generation. We didn’t really grow up with Ali, so Mike was our Superman. To see him shadowbox at 19, it was still scary but exciting how fast and powerful he was. When Buster Douglas knocked him out, I relived the heartbreak I felt that night. As the movie went on, I was making a mental checklist of some of the young brothers I looked up to as a kid: Michael Jackson became Wacko Jacko, Magic got HIV and had to quit the NBA, 2Pac got killed, Biggie got killed, and Mike Tyson went to prison. As far as brothers my age goes, Kobe had his rape trial, Mike Vick went to prison…I’ve had other guys I looked up to of course, but I think you see my point. It’s the dirty little joke I have with some of my Hollywood buddies; if I become big-time, how are they going to destroy me? How will I destroy myself?
At the end of the film, reliving his own ups and downs, Mike comes off as spiritually happy as he’s ever been. At 40, there’s a decent chance he may not have lived half his life yet. Tyson will be the first one to tell you he’s not anybody’s hero, but he talks about looking forward to living the rest of his days as a decent father and human being.
We should all be so lucky.