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LAS VEGAS —
Fighting legend Mike Tyson has swapped the boxing ring for the cabaret stage, in a new one-man show which pulls few punches in recounting the ups and downs of his roller-coaster life.
In a stand-up act he hopes to take to Broadway and beyond, the ex-world champion tackles head on the most controversial episodes, including his jailing for rape—he insists he was wrongly convicted—and his struggle with drugs.
Talking in sometimes frenetic bursts for almost non stop for two hours—and showing some nifty footwork to musical numbers from a jazz-rock ensemble—he also recalls the good times when his talent brought him fortune and fame.
“Welcome to my living room,” said the 45-year-old, opening the first night Friday in an intimate 740-seater theater in the back of the MGM Grand casino complex in Las Vegas, where the show runs until Wednesday.
“Many of you are wondering what the hell am I going to do up on the stage tonight,” he joked at the start of “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, Live on Stage. “To be honest I’m wondering the same thing too.”
The answer is a blow-by-blow run through his life story, starting with his birth in Brooklyn and not knowing who his real father was, his early brushes with the law, and how his mother died when he was 16.
It was then that his his boxing mentor, Cus d’Amato, helped him turn his back on crime and detention centers and refocus his life around his awesome fighting talent.
“I had a lot of emotional problems,” he said, evoking a theme of show, in which Tyson uses an array of expletives—including the “N’ word, repeatedly—to describe stupid things he has done over the years.
His bad behavior didn’t prevent him from becoming the youngest ever heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 20, after winning his first 19 professional bouts by knockouts.
But his first marriage to actress Robin Givens unraveled in 1989—Tyson tells a funny anecdote about Brad Pitt turning up with his estranged wife—and his self-confessed “demons” gradually got the better of him.
In 1992, Tyson was convicted of raping a beauty queen at a pageant in Indianapolis, Indiana. He served three years of a six-year sentence before his release in 1995, steadfastly denying he raped the woman.
“I went to jail for something I didn’t do,” he said Friday.
Tyson reclaimed the heavyweight throne but lost to Evander Holyfield in 1996 and in a 1997 rematch infamously bit Holyfield’s ears twice, serving a year’s banishment in exile for the move.
The boxer filed for bankruptcy in 2003, the same year his second marriage ended. He later married his current wife in 2009, but only shortly after his 4-year-old daughter Exodus died in a tragic accident at home.
But he has revived his career in recent years, appearing in cameo in the “Hangover” films (the second set in Vegas) and in reality television shows exploring his love of training pigeons.
The Vegas show—which seems to be another part of Tyson’s showbiz-themed career resurrection—is co-written by Tyson’s third wife Kiki and Hollywood playwright/director Randy Johnson—who claims he could take it worldwide.
“I am hoping to have a run on Broadway and the West End of London. I think we can play every legitimate theater in the world,” said Johnson, calling Tyson a natural entertainer.
The crowd Friday—predominantly white, many of them boxing fans in a town which has a long tradition of hosting major fights—were mostly impressed about Tyson’s stand-up talents.
“This guy is a mad man genius. This is what you get when you have someone with no formal education, but an extremely powerful, overactive mind,” said 36-year-old Joey Jurtzman, from Los Angeles.
“Everyone in this casino could learn a lot if they shut their mouths, and shut their minds and .. just listen to what Mike Tyson says, let it hit you, let it wash over you, and walk out a better person.”