Mike Tyson

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Biography

One of the most accomplished and notorious figures in professional sports, Mike Tyson was a one-time heavyweight champion boxer whose success in the ring was largely undone by his excesses outside of it. Known for his menacing demeanor and devastating power, Tyson was capable of defeating opponents with a single blow, which quickly sent him to the top of his profession, while immortalizing him in pop culture as the "baddest man on the planet." …
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Job Title

Actor, Producer, Music

Born

June 30, 1966

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One of the most accomplished and notorious figures in professional sports, Mike Tyson was a one-time heavyweight champion boxer whose success in the ring was largely undone by his excesses outside of it. Known for his menacing demeanor and devastating power, Tyson was capable of defeating opponents with a single blow, which quickly sent him to the top of his profession, while immortalizing him in pop culture as the "baddest man on the planet." A childhood spent in poverty and violence did not prepare him for the scrutiny he endured in the public eye, and poor judgment and criminal behavior helped to unseat him from his position at the peak of his powers in the late 1990s. Stints in jail for rape charges were followed by a string of bizarre behavior, most notably the biting of opponent Evander Holyfield's ear; by the new millennium, the world had written off Tyson as a damaged animal, incapable of existing outside the ring. After each incident, Tyson attempted to make amends by devoting his energies to improving himself, but financial ruin forced him to continue boxing long after his skills had left him. Mike Tyson's spectacular power, terrible fall from grace and numerous attempts to reclaim his life as his own made him at once one of the most vilified and tragic figures in American sports history.

Born Michael Gerard Tyson in Brooklyn, NY on June 30, 1966, he was one of three children born to Lorna Smith and Jimmy Kirkpatrick, who abandoned the family when Tyson was two. As was often the case with fatherless children, Tyson's early life was plagued by turmoil; financial difficulties forced the family to leave Bedford-Stuyvesant for the tough public housing in the East Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, and Tyson quickly fell in with a bad crowd. By the time he was 13, he had amassed a criminal record of 38 arrests, as well as a reputation for street brawling, which was often spurred by comments about his high-pitched speaking voice and pronounced lisp. He was eventually sent to the Tryon School for Boys for an armed robbery charge; there, he met Bobby Stewart, a counselor at the center and a former boxer who saw raw talent in the young Tyson.

Stewart introduced Tyson to Cus D'Amato, the legendary boxing trainer who had schooled fighters like Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres. D'Amato also saw star potential in Tyson, and became his legal guardian after Lorna Smith died when Tyson was 16. Under D'Amato's guidance, and through training by Kevin Rooney and, briefly, Teddy Atlas, Tyson blossomed into a formidable fighter. His massive build and stony visage was a chilling sight, even as an amateur at the 1982 Junior Olympics, where he took home the gold after achieving a knockout in eight seconds - the fastest in the competition's history. After failing to make the 1984 Olympic team, Tyson decided to go professional, and made his debut on March 4, 1985. His opponent, Hector Mercedes, was dispatched with a first round knockout, and over the next two years, he would repeat that pattern 16 times in 28 fights, with an additional 10 knockouts in subsequent rounds. The legend of Mike Tyson was firmly established in this early period - careful study of newsreel footage of champs from the past informed the young man that physical intimidation and a lack of fanfare could strike a degree of fear into the hearts of opponents that would weaken their resolve. Tyson entered rings without the fanfare and glitz associated with many boxers, and wore black trunks with no robes. His most destructive weapon - aside from his sheer strength and an unbeatable "peek-a-boo" style of defense - was a granite-faced scowl that spelled in no uncertain terms that he was there to deliver punishment to those that faced him. Among Tyson's trademark assaults was a combination of a right hook to the body, followed by a crushing uppercut to the chin, which frequently sent the recipient to the mat.

By his mid-twenties, Tyson was in the record books as the youngest heavyweight fighter to take the World Boxing Council (WBC) title belt after knocking out Trevor Berbick in the second round. He then added the World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Federation belts to his collection by taking apart James Smith and Tony Tucker, respectively. His reputation as the most ferocious fighter in the sport was gaining speed, and his presence in pop culture grew with each successive bout. His fearsome nature was paid tribute by a variety of sources - from the popular Nintendo Entertainment System video game "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" and the character "M. Bison" from the "Street Fighter" series of games, to cameos in movies, television shows and rap videos. However, the rush of popularity was tempered by the death of D'Amato in 1985; the loss of this father figure would have a dramatic impact on Tyson in the years to come.

For the time being, however, Tyson was at the top of the boxing world. Wins against such noted opponents as James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks solidified his status as the best in the sport. His estimated take from his matches was $50 million - an impressive war chest for any athlete. And his successes appeared to continue outside the ring as well. In 1987, he met and wooed actress Robin Givens, best known from the television series "Head of the Class" (ABC, 1986-1991). The couple married in 1988, and moved into a $4.5 million home in suburban New Jersey. For all intents and purposes, Tyson appeared to be living a charmed life.

The veneer that gilded that image was short-lived. Tyson severed his ties to Kevin Rooney, who, along with D'Amato, was largely responsible for his skills in the ring. Notorious promoter Don King stepped into the space left vacant by Rooney, and almost immediately, sports reporters and commentators began to notice a decline in Tyson's style - he seemed determined to knock out opponents in a single round; focusing his attention solely on the head rather than wearing out boxers with body blows. His personal life also went into a tailspin; he broke his hand in a street fight, and crashed his BMW near D'Amato's former home. Whispers of instability and suicidal thoughts began to enter into the public discussion of Tyson's career; making matters worse was the spectacularly public failure of his marriage to Givens, who described her husband - sitting just inches from her - as "manic-depressive" and abusive in a televised interview with Barbara Walters on "20/20" (ABC, 1978- ) in 1988. Allegations of spousal abuse preceded a gruesome divorce settlement in 1989, from which Givens was allegedly awarded $10 million.

Tyson fought only two matches in 1989, looking like a shadow of his former self. British boxer Frank Bruno managed to break through his weakening defense and land some blows, though Tyson finished him off in the fourth round. The crack in the armor was clearly a signal that Tyson's undefeatable status had reached its zenith, which was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt by yeoman pugilist James "Buster" Douglas in a 1990 fight in Tokyo. Experts had given the fight to Tyson, but in the tenth round, Douglas landed a flurry of blows that laid the champ out on the canvas. The sports world reacted in total shock - the fighter known as "Iron Mike" had gone down like any third-rate tomato.

Tyson attempted to rebuild his reputation with back-to-back wins against Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart in 1990, which led to a shot against the No. 2 contender, Donovan "Razor" Ruddock in 1991. The Las Vegas fight, however, was a controversial one, with the referee stopping the match in the seventh round and awarding it to Tyson. To silence critics, the pair met again in June of that year, and Tyson demolished his opponent with a 12-round unanimous decision from the judges. The stars appeared to be aligning for a Tyson comeback in the form of a championship match against Evander Holyfield in late 1991.

That face-off never came to pass. In July of 1991, Tyson attended the Miss Black America pageant, where he met Desiree Washington, the 18-year-old Miss Rhode Island contestant. The pair returned to Tyson's hotel room, where he allegedly raped her. He was tried and convicted of the charge in 1992, and spent the next three years in jail on a six-year sentence. The former champ spent his time behind bars in intense reflection, reading Malcolm X and Communist literature, and converting to Islam, from which he received the name Malik Abdul Aziz. Upon his release in 1995, he appeared serious about reforming his name and making good upon attempts to lead a more disciplined life. But with the return of Don King to his fold, Tyson undertook another turn towards bizarre behavior.

For the next year, Tyson battered his way through a string of inferior opponents, all of whom folded until the might of his attacks. One of the bouts, against WBA belt holder Bruce Seldon, ended in 109 seconds, with spectators claiming that Seldon appeared to suffer some sort of collapse prior to facing Tyson in the ring. Despite the criticism, Tyson worked his way up to a return fight against Evander Holyfield, the fighter he had placed to face before his incarceration. Critics fairly slavered in anticipation of the bloodbath that would certainly follow; Holyfield, then 34, was seen as a washed-up fighter at the time, and due to a weakened heart condition, was in some danger of dying as a result of the fight. Despite these concerns, it was Tyson, not Holyfield who hit the canvas first after a devastating left hook. A follow-up was quickly arranged, and Tyson-Holyfield II came to pass in 1997. It was here that whatever tenuous grasp Tyson held to his reputation as a boxer was loosened, and the former champ began his long spiral into faded glory.

Both fighters received whopping purses for their participation in the event - Tyson was given $30 million, while Holyfield got $35, which amounted to the largest payouts in boxing history. Pay-per-view purchases went through the roof as well, with an estimated 1.99 million households tuning in. What viewers got, however, was one of the ghastliest displays of unprofessional behavior in modern sports. Onlookers were horrified as Tyson bit Holyfield twice on the ear, tearing away a piece of flesh at one point; the match was stopped in the third round, and a riot broke out in the MGM Grand Garden, which resulted in several injuries. The Nevada state boxing commission withheld $3 million from Tyson's take, which was soon followed by the state's Athletic Commission rescinding his boxing license, which effectively made him unable to fight in the United States. By this point, any and all reports on Tyson painted him as a bloodthirsty animal; the spurt of goodwill generated after the rape charges trickled to nothing, and the media was unwavering in its negative portrayal of the former champ. Though his license was restored after a year, Tyson's reputation was ruined.

Once again, Tyson made an effort to clean up his act. He quietly remarried pediatric resident Monica Turner in 1997, and reporters who visited his training sessions saw a focus and determination that had been missing since the early 1990s. Tyson returned to boxing in 1999 and worked his way through a series of undistinguished opponents; by 2001, he declared that he was "back" and ready to reclaim his throne. There were, however, unsettling reminders of his unstable side; a win against wild card Andrzej Golota in 2000 was changed to no contest after a post-fight drug test yielded positive traces of marijuana in Tyson's urine, and there was a brief return to jail after a road rage incident provoked him to assault a pair of motorists. Tyson's finances were also in jeopardy, with some $13 million in back taxes awaiting payment. The external pressures of fame and money, and the slow building turmoil within Tyson's psyche clearly contributed to Tyson's bizarre behavior prior to a match against heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis in 2002.

From the start, the fight was tinged with ugliness from Tyson's corner. In interviews, Tyson made statements about eating Lewis' children, and the pair even came to pre-fight blows in a 2002 press conference, during which Tyson bit Lewis on the leg. The brawl prevented the fight from taking place in Tyson's preferred location - Las Vegas - and was moved to Memphis in mid-2002. Pay-per-view purchases were again breaking records, but the fight itself was a letdown, with Lewis flattening Tyson in the eighth round. Pundits predicted this bout to be the end of Tyson's professional career. The fighter, himself, was oddly reflective about the match, and even gracious in defeat, embracing his opponent and speaking his praises to the press.

However, Tyson would continue to fight for several more years after the Lewis match. Crumbling finances resulted in a declaration of bankruptcy in 2003; a fortune of over $300 million had vanished in a flurry of bad financial decisions, as well as a divorce from Turner and support of seven children. Unsurprisingly, Tyson returned to the ring for a trio of underwhelming matches, made all the more exploitative by Tyson's new facial tattoo, which seemed to emphasize his older, more unstable identity. His final professional fight came in 2005 against Kevin McBride, during which Tyson stopped the fight to announce his retirement. According to him, he no longer possessed the heart or the "guts" to make a go of the sport. It was a sad end to a career that, at the time, was receiving mountains of tributes from the press for his past achievements.

Tyson devoted much of his time post-retirement to paying off his debts. There was a series of unpleasant exhibition matches against Corey "T-Rex" Sanders, an overweight punching bag who was nearly blind from a detached retina. Tyson also participated in numerous endorsements and various boxing related entertainment shows in Las Vegas. In interviews, he described his life as "a waste," with little to show beyond his persona as a vicious brute. He attempted to stay out of the limelight, preferring to tend to pigeons in a remote enclave in Arizona. But his personality continued to prove a roadblock for happiness. In late 2006, he was arrested on suspicion of DUI and felony drug possession, which resulted in 24 hours in jail and 360 hours of community service. Tyson checked himself into a rehabilitation facility, which helped to stave off a year-long sentence.

In 2008, Tyson was the subject of an eponymous documentary by filmmaker James Toback, who had previously directed him in the feature "Black and White" (1999). The latter feature was notorious for a sequence in which actor Robert Downey, Jr. appeared to taunt Tyson into throwing him into a painful headlock. For "Tyson," however, the former champ appeared exceptionally reflective - even philosophical - as he provided a stream-of-consciousness narration for clips and footage from his most famous bouts. Reviews were largely praiseworthy for Tyson's confessional tone, as were most critics' responses to a comic turn in "The Hangover" (2009), a broad laugher about a trio of hapless partiers whose drunken reign of destruction in Las Vegas includes an accidental kidnapping of a tiger owned by the boxing great. Tyson appeared exceptionally game for the light-hearted portrayal, which included a jaw-dropping moment in which he belted out a tuneless rendition of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." The upbeat news, however, was tempered by the accidental death of his daughter Exodus, who had become entangled in the power chord from an exercise treadmill. The four-year-old lingered on life support for a day before dying on May 26, 2009.

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