"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Dead Calm

Daphne Merkin had a long piece on Iron Mike Tyson in the Times Magazine over the weekend.

In preparation for my visit to Las Vegas at the beginning of March, I communicated through e-mail with Kiki, who manages Tyson’s affairs, and the plan was kept loose: we were to meet at his house for several days of conversation, with no definite times fixed. I called the film director James Toback, who made an acclaimed 2009 documentary about Tyson and has known him since they met on the set of Toback’s “Pick-Up Artist” in 1986, to find out what I could about a man who came across in the film as both very present and elusive, weepy one minute and matter-of-fact the next, capable of self-insight but also hidden to himself. Toback told me that Tyson was unpredictable, given to sudden psychological disconnections that Toback referred to as “click-outs.” It was entirely possible, Toback said, that Tyson would back out of the interviews altogether. “Everything is contingent on the state of mind he’s in at the moment,” the director observed. According to Toback, he and Tyson shared experiences of temporary insanity — of “losing the I” — and “people who don’t understand madness can’t understand him. He’s quicker, smarter, sharper than almost anyone he’s talking to.”

…As befits someone who has been alternately idolized and demonized by the press, Tyson is leery of the public’s continuing interest in his saga. He says he believes that celebrity made him “delusional” and that it has taken nothing less than a “paradigm shift” for him to come down to earth: “We have to stick to what we are. I always stay in my slot. I know my place.” He asked me outright, “Why do you want to know about me as a person?” and at one point, anxious that he might be boring me, he got up to show me photographs from the glory days in which he is posing with other boxers (Ali, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta) and with big names like Frank Sinatra, Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand. Underneath his deliberate calmness and considerable charm, there is something bewildered and lost-seeming about Tyson. Indeed, he refers to himself as a “little boy” who “never had a chance to develop,” and it is in part this conception of himself as missing out on a crucial period of maturation that fuels his present focus. “This is what the deal is,” he said. “People just wait for you to grow up and do the right thing. They’re just waiting for you to participate in the improvement of your life as a human being. When are you going to do it?”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver