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MIKE TYSON

ike Tyson's eyes skewer straight through rne.

I am standing a few feet away from hirn as

he prepares to strip offfor the weigh-in for

his fight here in Las Vegas against a boxer

narned Orlin Norris. Hundreds of people

are packed into the auditorium in which the

air-conditioning has driven the temperature

down to almost freezing point. People

around me are shivering, although it's 90o

outside. When Tyson spots me, he scrutinises

me sullenly.

He calmly strips and stands on the scales.

Cheers ring out flom th€ crowd, which

includes some women who squeal with

delight when Tyson, a convicted rapist,

flexes his muscles. His people seem jumpy

and wired. But not Tyson. He's still and

poised to the point oflooking doped. When

our eyes lock, I realise he's in control and

vigilant. As he stands facing the world naked

apart from his prison tattoos and a pair of

briefs, he turns and glares down at me for

the last time. I nod at him. He turns away,

half-smiling and half-sneering. Then, a second

or two later, he directs his gaze back

down at me and retums the nod. It's as ifhe's

seen inside my head - the way he does with

opponents before a fight - glimpsing and

acknowledging the complicated and conflicting

feelings I have towards him.

Then Tyson's entourage vanish, leaving

the scrambling media in their wake, The

artificially chill€d air suddenly returns. I

shudder. Then I reach for my lower back,

where the palm ofmy hand finds a sweat

stain as large as a dinner plate.

lfs October 1999, l'|n in Las V€gat

and Mike Tyson is in town for a fight tonight.

Four days earlier he'd sounded more like a

man fending offa mid-life crisis than a boxer

r€ady to beat up a mediocre opponent called

Orlin Norris. "My past is history. I made so

many mistakes," said Tyson, cradling his

98 a.qsi'ta FEBRUARY 2000

head. "I listened to all the wrong people. Now

I try to make my life happy. I know who I

am. .. It's tough these days to train for a fight.

I haven't seen my family in months. But this

is what I do. This is my therapy."

That sort oftalk is fine for the couch, but

not for rhe crowds. They want annihilation,

not analysis.

"I lost a lot ofrespect for myself. I lost

respect in my judgement and who I was as

a person. That's real ugly... I didn't care if

I went to iail or not. I was pretty ruuch at a

low point in my life. [But] I'm pretty much

getting over a dark moment in my life."

This is a nan who's blown $150m in less

than a decade. The US papers claim he now

needs around $20m to iust about crawl into

the pennil€ss bracket. He needs to fight, it's

the only way he can keep his head above water.

But Tyson is still a crowd-puller. Thus,

the whining private jets have been arriving

at Las Vegas's McCarron airpot for the past

few hours. Their passengers heading for the

MGM Grand, the self-proclaimed "City of

Entertainm€nt" and the world's largest

hotel, which sits on Las Vegas Boulevard

with all the charm of a monolithic, luminous,

green brick, Inside th€ rec€ption area,

thousands ofpeople swarn around.

Tyson's public-relations people stride

around purposefully. They have to sell the

33-year-old as amisunderstood, decent guy.

Significant matters likc rape, assault and

prison are sidelined. They orl,/ sell their man.

He oill vir.'fhey oil/ get their cut. All the

contracts pil,/ be renewed. That's the plan.

In the vast main lobby, a tower ofvideo

screens plays an advert fo! the Tyson fight

o[ continuous loop. A baritone voice intones

the inane commentary: "It's the biggest

night in sports." Fast-cut images of Mike

Tyson and Orlin Noris training are washed

in red. "MIKE TYSON RLTURNS." The

v6ice-over assures us that tickets for the big

fight are definitely still available.

Tylon's atory har now becomg Dart

of US media folklore. It's almost, but not

quite, down there with the washed-up fables

ofPee Wee Herman, Tonya Harding and,

significautly, Sonny Liston. Tyson's career

bears astonishing sirnilarities to Liston's.

Both were bullied at school; both learnt to

box while incarceratedt both obliterated

opponents with left-hooks; both had periodic

drinking problems. Liston also had a

gun put to his head, was arrested regularly

and committed rape several times. Liston

died aged 38 - "a baby!" in Tyson's words

- probably kitled by a letial heroin overdose

Welght of €xpection

Tyson weiths in for hls

| 999 frght In Las VeSas

aFinst Orlin Noris,

sponinS bri€fs and his

prison tatroos ofChe

Guet'an, Ardu. Ashe

'l lost

respect

o lot of

for

myself. I lost

respect in my

iudgement ond

who lwos.

Thots reol ugly'

;l

?l

zl

Ir

:1


Shot by rhot

From top, l0nch wlth the

D Amato hmlll,; tfie /oung

Tyson; winning the WBC

tide with Don Klng triinint

with D'Amato: Tyson bears

r..nK 6runo m rrdri Koorn

Givens with TFon in 1988;

Tyson and Norris durint

th€lr 1999 Rthc Bruno gos

down under a T/son barnge

in 1996i TFon gets rel€ased

from jailin 1995i Tyson

tuhbles for his pmshield on

hb m/ to defeat ateinst

tuiter Dougl6 In l99q

Ey.nd€r Holyfield's €ar after

m€eting Tyson In | 997

administered by local Vegas wise-guys. It's

a tale ofhaving it all and losing it all.

At the moment, Tyson is teetering on the

edge. There was a time when he captivated

boxing fans. He was the greatest heavyweight

ofmy generation, winning the undisputed

title in such a dynamic, convincing way that

you could imagine your children's children

talking about him. Ifyou're under 40, you

never really had Ali so, when Tyson arrived,

he was your man. Now he's veering towards

tlle sideshows. The n oted P hiladelp hia Daily

Nerr boxing reporter, Bernard Fernandez,

explained:

"MiIe Tyson is like a fat Elvis...

he's not the guy that he was before, but

there's still a curiosity factor."

The cu osity lingers for complex reasons.

Tyson possessed a phenomenal talent: he

combined natural gifts (his physique and

the mental ability to absorb the technical

instructions and his gym-trained attributes)

with the discipline of restraining his atracking

instincts and subordinating them into

technique. This was a complicated strategy

that involved as much highly skilled defence

work as ferocity. To many, Tyson looked

too primal and brutal to be palatable. To the

rest of us, he was the genuine article.

There are books about him, videos about

him. Consume this stuffand you'll realise

that at times it's hard to decide whether

Tyson drove the media or the media drove

Tyson. But it wasn't always like this.

As a child-prodigy boxer, the media loved

him. He was like a wrecking cartoon. WIen

I first saw Harry Carpenter interview him, I

vas enthralled. Tyson sat in a darkened room,

already looking like a fully-grown man,

watching old fight films ofJack Dempsey,

RocLy Marciano and Joe Louis. No wonder

when he fought at that age his opponents'

handlers used to check his birth certificate.

He looked like he'd a couple ofgood fights

to go before he was due for retirement. At

age 13 he weighed 15 stone. But with a broken

family and a New York City ghetto

upbringing behind him, Mike Tyson was

already known to explode in a rage ifanyone

called him "Fairy Boy" because ofhis

high-pitched, lisping voice. He was shipped

out ofBrooklyn by the authorities to reform

school in upstate New York. Within montis

of fi$t pulling on a pair of boxing gloves, he

was ready to start his grisly ascent in what

he'd one day ruefully call "a lonely sport".

Wrtft I€3r ttan an hour to go, a duor

of people cascades into MGM's casino. The

PR guys and the hotel managers periodically

appear to view this scene ofwalking dollar

bills. They know Tyson needs big bucks fast.

Glance at tlte heavyweight rankings and you

won't see his name there any more. Ten

years ago that was unthinkable in boxing.

But dings change - $'alls fall, nations unify

and even Tyson walked into a right hand.

But the memory ofhis lower body launching

a left uppercut lingers in the minds of

the moneyrnen. Likd a Hollywood sequel,

he might have one more title shot left in him.

That's why they're paying the unranked

Tyson $10m to appear and his opponent a

derisory $800,000 to act as a punchbag. Like

everything else in this town, it's a gamble.

Ifthe fight fans don't corne across with the

big (tosing) bets, Tyson is history. So the

men in suits watch and wait. As fight time

nears, the crowds keep coming; steady, but

not overwhelming. Tyson's fight is scheduled

for 8pm.

nik€ lv8on wa8 onco d|€ iubi€et of

an audacious and brilliantly conccived life

and career plan. Upstate New York, the area

where Tyson grew up and where the plot

was hatched, is the antithesis ofthe city from

which it takes its name. It's a remote and

leafy part ofthe world. Land a black kid from

rhe city in the middle ofthis and, depending

on his survival skills, he'll either sink or

he'll find a way to swim.

At reform school, he was spotted by a cop

called Bobby Stewart. He took Tyson to the

Catskill Boxing Ctub, run by a white-haired

trainer called Cus D'Amato. D'Amato took

Tyson in to live with him. Tyson became

the prot6g6 who exemplified D'Amato's

unique hands-up bobbing and weaving style.

He forecast, correcdy, that Tyson rvould be

tlte heavyweight champion ofthe world. But

D'Amato was controlling. He was criticised

for unleashing Tyson too fast, oyer-developed

as aboxerbut under-developed as man.

The wily, brilliant D'Amato spotted the first

stirrings ofserpentine discontent in his boy's

soul and contrived to slay th€se demons by

flinging Tyson into the gym on a daily basis.

D'Amato knew that the only person who

could ultimately beat Mike Tyson was, in

fact, Mike Tyson.

"I used to say,

'Cus, I'll sell my soul to be

a great fighter.' And he said: 'Be careful what

you wish for 'cause you rnight get it, "' mused

Tyson not long ago.

Like all child prodigies, Mike Tyson could

be troublesome. He fell out with another

D'Amato prot6g6 Teddy Atlas, who trained

Tyson. The rumour is that Tyson groped a

young female relative ofhis trainer. D'Amato

brought in another ofhis team, the brilliant

100 €.qqrrt.

FEBRUARY 2OOO


MIKE TYSON

trainer Kevin Rooney, to replace Atlas. Two

class-act managers were also brought in:Jim

Jacobs and Bill Cayton, both New YorLbased.

both with unblemished. unassailable

reputations in the frght game. Tyson lived

in the gym. The diary ofhis early pro-fights

in upstate New York is bewildering.In 1985,

he fought 15 times in nine months and won

all the contests by knockout.

Cus D'Amato died suddenly in 1985. The

impact of his death on Tyson must have

been terrifying. D'Amato's psychological

grip and physical aura were legendary. Tyson

had lost his motler a few years earlier; now

the person who sincerely believed in him,

who had given him some self-esteem, had

gone out ofhis life. Years later, the adult

Tyson, worth tens of millions ofdollars, one

of the most feared and recognised men in

the world, would cry like a baby on the shoulder

ofa joumalist who interviewed him about

D'Amato. "It occurs to me how much more

fun it used to be when it wasn't about money

so much," said Tyson. "He died and everything

became money, rnoney, money."

D'Amato and his team had rnapped out a

rout€ to the top and Tyson was their willing

vehicle to get them there. D'Amato knew

that the key to Tyson's success was not so

much about rraining his body but getting

inside his head. Tyson came to completely

trust the old man: he was the one person tlte

fatherless Tyson felt had never let him down.

Apart ftom the physical lessons he learnt

ftom D'Amato, Tyson also absorbed one

important rule: trust no one in boxing, possibly

in life. With him gone, trusting nobody

meant that. at one extreme. he could not

build new relationships, personally or professionally.

At the other extreme, when he

did reach out, he invariably found himself

touching the smiling sharts D'Amato had

iust started preparing him for l'hen he died.

Maybe the rest ofhis life has been a search

for another D'Amato. He needed someone

to shield him, to keep the rcal world at bay.

He knew that he'd become tough to protect

the abused wasteland on the inside. He knew

that he didn't know how to treat women -

he overpowered them. He knew that he was

out ofhis depth socially, that he wasn't educated

enough. Only when he boxed did he

feel worthwhile.

In 1986, the heavyweight division was a

disaster area. Federations and alleged champions

proliferated. Don King, the two-time

convict-turned-promoter and ex-numbers

boss from Cleveland, dominated the heavyweight

division - most ofthe title holders

and contenders were under his control.

Tyson was firmly in Don King's sights.

King had cut a TV heavl"weight-unification

tournament deal. He knew the real thing

when he saw it - Tyson's raw art ofboxing,

his brutally truthful approach, was a magnet

to fight fans, and therefore to money.

Mike Tyson defeated Trevor Berbick in

November 1986 when he was just over 20

years old to win the WBC title and become

the youngest ever heavyweight champion

ofthe world. For anyone who watched the

bout - as I did - the sight ofBerbick trying

to stagger like a drunk to his feet signalled

the real arrival ofTyson. He'd later say it

was the most memorable night ofhis life:

'l soid,

"Cus

l'll

sell my soul to

be o greoter

fighter." And he

soid,

"Be

coreful

whot you wish

for'couse you

might get it."'

not because he was champion ofthe world,

but because,

"I've never really had people

accept me so fully before and haven't really

been accepted that way since."

Photos in the ring after that fight show

Don King standing grinning madly in the

back ofthe frame. He was Tyson's future.

Satudav night in Lar Uegas and ifr

almost time for Tyson to do what he once

said he was "born to do". But life is not so

simple any more: "Sometimes I get overaggressive

with people. People think I'm

mean, I'm bad... I don't think I was born

bad. We all dictate the direction ofour life.

Sometimes we make mistakes that last with

us the rest ofou! lives," Tyson recently told

USA Today. He sounded almost cont te.

Tyson may be waking up to the mess his

life is in, but that's not the image the merchandise

stand projects. Instead, his "Be

Real" logo is emblazoned on everything.

We're meant to buy into the myth that he's

still a focused, uncomplicated man offew

words. That's the image that sells. Here in

1999 Las Vegas it's still 1985 ir Tyson-land.

Brutal. Dramatic. Vicious.

I walk towards the Grand Garden Arena

at 7.30pm. CJowds gather near the enffance

to see stars but, after the Holyfield clash

(the so-called "Bite-Fight"), few real A-list

celebrities want to be seen around Tyson.

There was a time when Madonna or Stallone

would have been among the spectato$. Not

any more. It's mostly the shady unknowns

who fly in now - the ones with the attitude

and offshore accounts. But, for a few, old

habits die hard: John Travolta, Charlie Sheen

and Pierce Brosnan all have ringside seats.

Security check follows security check as

I enter the arena. There were riots after the

last Tyson fight here. Tonight, they are taking

no chances. Clusters ofbeige-uniformed

Las Vegas police are everywhere.

Tyson's fight is late; it'll be another hour

before he shows up. The crowd becomes

restless. There's a buzz in the air, an illicit,

semi-seductive, almost-criminal tingle that

one veteraniournalist tells me issinplymissing

from other heavyweight fights he sees,

including Lewis and Holyfield bouts. He's

right, I can feel it. Mike Tyson has indeed

entered the building.

lowaldr drc e||d ot dro Eiglraisr it all

changed for Tyson. "There was Don King,"

confided a former associate ofMike Tyson's.

"Then there was Robin Givens..."

A mid-range actress with a knowing

demeanour, Givens ran rings around the

FEBRUARY 2000 6quin

l0l


MIKE TYSON

Tyson's former

troiner soid,

'Bruno

hit Tyson

with more

punches thon

he'd ever toke

in the gym or

in fights. ..'

A night to Emember \rvh.n Bruno

rocked Tyson wldr r .ltl|t In th€lr 1989 n8ht,

TFon looked vunehbla TFon w€nt on to

win in d|e fffth, but Bruno d€clared

afterwards: 'Mike Tyson crn be b€aten.'

Buster Douda proved hlm rlght a tear larer

r02 44u''.r- FEBRUARY 2OOO


Time please, gentlom€n

This poge, clockwke fron top left,

Tyson hits Norris after the bell

rin$ to siSnalth end ofthe

frst round oftheir 1999 fight in

Las Ve8as, Norris hits the

canvas, Norris claims he can't

continue and chao! ensues in

the rin& then Tyson is lead

away. OpPosite Poge, Tyson's

face appears on a tiant video

screen as he walks back to his

dressint room

love-sick Tyson as he was in the midst of

trying to unify the world titles. Tyson's

rraining was also disrupted by his growing

predilection for nightclubs. But he still won

the unification fight with Tony Tucker

to become the Undisputed Heavyweight

Charnpion of the World.

He married Givens after a bizarre elopement

in Chicago in February 1988. By now,

Tyson's management ream were having

trouble with her involvernent in his affairs.

Then his co-manager Jim Jacobs died. The

loss flung Tyson offbalance the same way

D'Amato's deathhad. ButDon Kingstepped

in to add his own particular brand ofstability.

After a Michael Spinks fight, Tyson

fired both his manager Cayton and trainer

Rooney. His final links with Cus D'Amato

were gone.

Tyson's behaviour outside the ring was

incrcasingly erratic. h affected his training

and his performances. His former trainer

Kevin Rooney told me Tyson literally let his

guald down against Bruno in 1989: "fFrank

Bruno] hit Tyson with more punches than

he'd cver take in the gym or in fights."

Journalists were now kept at arm's length

during Tyson's training. More than one was

thrown out for asking what his management

perceived to be the "wrong" question.

Morc victories followed, but paradoxically

with each fight he looked less and less

like a Cus D'Amato fighter. Some said his

opponents now fell into the "Bum of the

Month" category. Then a lucrative, seemingly

easy, bout in Tokyo beckoned in

February 1990. Tyson had to lose weight at

the last minute, so he entered the fight out

of shapc, wsalgngd and with an inexperienced

corner tearn.

His unknown challenger for tle bout was

James "Buster" Douglas - it should have

been an eosy fight for an itr-shape Tyson. It

wasn't. Douglas leathered Tyson into an

asto[lsl]rng victory in the tenth round. The

bizarrc footage ofTyson groping around on

all fours trying to put his gumshield into his

mouth after Douglas had floored him with

a solid left became emblematic ofthe fallen

champ.

thc lllst tlme | 8€e If,ike fyson in

pelson ls at a mid-morning press conferencein

the Hollywood Theatre of rhe MGM

Grand Hotel. We're here three days before

he faces Orlin Norris. The 200 journalists

have seen tt all 6s6.t..

With o thick crop ofrecently grown hair,

Tysonlooksyears younger than he did when

he went for the shaven-skullook. But his

104 a.4ql^. FEBRUARy 2000

forehead is huge, his eyebrows like overhanging

rocks. They are at odds with his

strangely angular face, his cheekbones more

prominent since he dropped weight recently.

His small, dark brown eyes dart urgently,

taLing in the slightest movement. He looks

agitated in our presence.

When he talks, his eyebrows arch like

those of a comical pantomime-villain. While

speaking, he hardly unclenches his teeth -

when he does, you catch a flash from his two

gold teeth. Then there's his voice. It's his

most obvious curse: God's way ofreminding

him who's in charge. Tyson sounds less

like the hardest man on earth and more like

a pimply 14 year old with a breaking voice.

Tyson looks as fed up as the journalists.

He's wearing a black baseball cap and a white

T-shirt. Tyson's opponent Norris sits

nearby wearing a white dres shirt, staring

at the table. He smiles too much. He looks

like he has too much brains to be in the same

ring with Tyson. A series ofsoft questions

arelobbed atTyson. He answers cagily. The

majority ofthe journalists have been here

before. They know Tyson won't say much

and that he can't wait to be somewherelse.

&|saer Doughs rxas fFo|fs bogrynsl

all right. It all went sour after rhat debacle.

There followed court cases, lame victorres

in the ring against second-raters, an expensive

divorce ftom Givens and then another

crack at the title. Even that fell apart when

Tyson was imprisoned in 1992 for six years

for raping a Miss Black America contestant

called Desiree Washington. The details of

the case were disturbing. Tyson's lewd behaviour

towards women had clearly run out of

control. Without monitoring and protection

from his own excesses he was dangerous.

Tyson walked out ofprison on 25 March

1995 straight into the arms ofnot only a new

wife. Dr Monica Turner. but also into the

capacious bear-hug of Don King. After a

return to the ring and some victories, Tyson

lostinNovember 1996 toEvanderHolyfield.

In the third round oftheJune 1997 rematch,

he snapped and bit Holyfield's ear twice.

He had regressed back to where he started

when he ra'alked irto D'Amato's gym - all

aggression and little else. The technique had

evaporated. His arrogance had convinced

him that he could go it alone; he was surrounded

now with yes-men who would never

dare tell him he was losing it by the day.

This was where his hubris had led him.

Fined $3m for his conduct by the Nevada

State Athletic Commission, Tyson had his

licence revoked for a year. He started panicking.

By February 1998, Tyson had fired

Don King. Rumours surfaced in the press

that Tyson was in deep financial trouble.

An application for a boxing licence in New


MIKE TYSON

Jersey foundered: Tyson applied in Nevada

instead. The boxer was then involved in an

altercation with two drivers after their car

hit a vehicle driven by his wife Monica. A

court case would later ensue.

In the meantime, Tyson faced a psychiatric

examination at the request of the

Nevada State Athletic Commission. Its

conclusions were as fascinating as they were

humiliating. Tyson revealed he'd "felt

depressed all ofhis life". When he was being

examined, Tyson said that, "I have no selF

esteem, but the biggest ego in the world."

The doctors concluded that medication

wouldn't be helpful in his case and that "a

return to boxing will help alleviate some of

the stresses contributing to his depression".

On l6January 1999, Mike Tyson returned

to the ring in the MGM Grand to face relative

no-hoper Frangois Botha. Tyson's fifthround

victory was marred by claims that he

was trying to break his opponeot's arm by

holdingon to ituntil itsnapped. Three weeks

later, Mike Tyson was sentenced to two concurrent

two-year sentences for assaulting

the motorists who'd rear-ended his wife's

car. The judge, however, suspended all but

a year ofthat jail time. Tyson was fined95,000

and given two years probation. He was

released on 24 May 1999, weighing 20 stones.

l'rn herc to |nccl llike Tyson lor our

interview. Two hours after the moming press

conference, I'm standing in the Nevada sun

outside the square metal building that houses

the Golden Gloves Gym. Tyson has been

training here forweeks. His "adviser" Shelly

Finkel told me: "Come out here and Mike

will speak to you at the end ofhis workout

ifhe feels like it." I'm summoned inside and

told to make myselfscarce in a corner.

Mike Tyson's life in the gym isn't complicated,

it's justsweatingand fighting. Simple,

basic human elements that are controllable.

The raging, confusing hurricane of fame is

somewhere else. The only thinking that's

required in here relates to the mechanics of

fighting, and Tysol can handle that.

So I watch Mike Tyson skipping in the

corner of the gym. He looks perfectly at

home - and I mean at home, as ifhe has a

sleeping bag stashed in the corner- The handle

ofthe skipping-rope vanishes into the

slowball-vhite mitt ofhis bandaged hands.

Rap music pounds. He skips with a medium

pace, occasionally swinging the ropes from

side to side. His light-brovn skin shrnes

under the lights. The glare hits his forehead

and solid arms. Now and then he puts his

head back, biting his bortom lip in concentration,

hiseyeshut. The leatherope cracks

the floor, invisible to my eye as it whirrs.

After a while, Tyson pauses. He glances

up at me. I notice the large size of his

head, the knot of scar tissue on his brow. He

stares through rne, as if in a trance. But he's

still watchful and clearly on a hair-trigger.

I'm reminded of the

respected BBC boxing

commentator Mike

Costello's comments to

me that: "With Tyson,

you just never know.

There's always that

sense around him that

there's a time-bomb

waiting to explode, that

he can't really control

what he's doing... He

almost goes into a daze."

I watch as he cools

down from training. He

stretches for a while.

Then he disappears

into a changing room.

When he re-emerges,

everyone slowly gravitates

towards him. He

stands around smiling that familiar halfsneer,

half-childlike smile and shakes hands.

The gym is filled with other black boxers

and hangers-on. The atmosphere is relaxed

and friendly. I lean into the crowd and touch

his shoulder. He turns around and looks at

me. I'm a stmnger and he's as wary as hell.

He eyes me up and down while I tell him

I'm here to interviertr him. "Sure," he says.

He smiles, shrugs and placidly follows me

to a quiet area ofthe gym.

I'm about to start my interview with a

question about what kind ofshape he's in,

when suddenly I hear a voice. "It's over! It's

over! CUT!" Shelly Finkel arrives and stops

the interview before it's even started. The

boxer looks at me and shrugs - the matter

is out of his hands. For all his recent

announcements that he's his own man and

manager, in reality he's powerless: "Sorry,

man, I can't talk unless he says it's OK," he

says. He pointsatFinkel who's saying something

about me "breating rules". Tyson

grins as ifhe knows all about such predicaments,

then leaves.

When I ask Finkel what I'd done to deserve

this treatment he prevaricates. He tells me

to callhim tomorrow to arrange another visit

(I do: "It's not going to happen," he tellsme).

A day later, I'm at the weigh-in for the

fight. I talk to one ofTyson's current comermen

and trainers, Jay Bright, who $159

'l've

felt

depressed oll

my life... I hove

no self-esteem

buthe biggest

ego in the world'

FEBRUARY 2000 f.qqnt. 105


the memory of it... Yeah, I want more...

He sighs. Unfortunately, they don't have

any at the Chateau Marmont, so we settle for

a glass ofCabernet. Johnny touches my glass

with his. We toast his daughter.

lflhsn Lily noso l5elody Depp was bont

on 27 May 1999, says her father, everything

suddenly made sense to him for the first trme.

He is living in the third dimension now. "It's

exactly that, like living in 3D. I don't feel as if

I smiled before - which I did, obviously, but I

really didn't feel it like I feel it now. I mean I

cany'el myself smiling and I smile every day -

a lot. There tust wasn't any particular reason

for anything before and Lily Rose has given me

a reason. Now I have my own little family; I've

got my girl Vanessa, we have our daughter and

it's a beautiful kind of simple life."

Johnny Depp says he'd always known that

one day he'd have a baby, but never known

when-or if- there would be a righttime. But

when he met Vanessa in Paris (for the second

time - he'd met her two years before) he knew

instantly, he says, that she was the one who

would be the mother ofhis child.

So it was all planned? Oh yeah, he says.

Absolutely. Had he not felt like that about anyone

elsel Well, he says carefully, the situations

were difficult. "It was a different world, or

different worlds. It was too hard before - it was

like everything moved leally fast around me

and suddenly, I don't knov, it just got really

calm and slow, really slow. Things weren't calrn

before, never."

He has, he says, discovered the diiference

betveen night and day now, they don't just

roll into each other like they used to, and when

I ask him if it has altered his Iifestyle in any

way, he takes a long time to answer. When he

does, it's convinciug.

"Er... I don't want to

poison myselfany more." Pause. "For years

and years you drink aud you... inebriate yourself

in one way or another and it seems like

recreation, but in fact it's not. You're trying

to medicate yourselfand numb yourself, to be

comfortable in your skin, to be calm - and I

don't want to do that any more. Vanessand

the babyhavereally given me a reason to live."

"He's really, really centred and happy at

the moment," says Jim Jarmusch. "He still

has the same quick perceptions and sense of

humour, but whatever used to gnaw at him

doesn't seem to be there any more."

"All he does is talk about the baby," giggl€s

Gilliam, whom Depp frequently phones for

child care advice. "He's becomiug an incredibly

boring human being, He's no longer a

great actor, just one of hundreds of millions

offathers..."

Is this the newJohnny Deppl He's just beeu

awarded a Hollywood star on Sunset Strip,

something given in recognition not just of

good work, but to an upstanding rnember of

the community.

At least they've got that bit wrong. O

grew up with him

FROIII PAGE

inCusD'Amatols

house in Catskill.

He's friendly and

courteous and speaks frankly about Tyson,

saying he's slowly gerting himselfback into

real world-class shape.

"He's talked about

.the fact he's taking on new responsibilities

and losing money... he's trying to get it all

back together again."

I ask him about Tyson's media image.

"He's not that individual portrayed by the

rnedia; he's actually a very good person, he's

got a heart ofgold, he's congenial, a good

guy... If people really took the time to go

past the sulface ofwhat's written about him

and listen to him when he speaks, I think

they'd have a different concept ofhim as a

person." I stop the tape and tell him that's

exactly what I was trying to do the previous

day when I attempted to interview Tyson.

He shrugs. Also powerless.

As we finish speaking,I realise we've been

joined - and our conversation taped - by two

PR men, one I believe to be from the company

handling Tyson and one from a TV

company showing the fight. I'm asked to

step aside. I complain, but to no avail. From

that point on I'm ftozen outby Team Tyson.

Tyson ir introducad and lhe arona

erupts. Tyson paces the ring looking lile his

brooding hero, Sonny Liston. On the bell,

the fighters come flying out. It's an even 6ght

for the next two-and-a-halfminutes. Tyson

looks sharper and leaner, but misses a few

punches as Norris moves away fast. Norris

jabs into his face frequently. Then every so

often, Tyson-usinghis short height - comes

fiom underneath like a missile and explodes

with a left jab. A couple connect. He also

bobs and weaves, the way he did when he

first started out under D'Amato, Atlas and

Rooney. For those briefmoments I'm watching

the fighter and boxer I admired. And

it's been worth the journey.

Then, in a clinch near the end oftheround

and just as they break, Tyson belts Norris.

Points are deducted. The crowd boos and

whistles. Fighting resumes for the next 20

seconds or so. Tyson seems to be winning.

Then, iust as the fighters clinch again, the

bell, which signals the end ofRound One,

goes five times. The referee steps in between

the fighters. Norris drops his gloves and

then.., Tyson hooks him on the chin. But

not hard. Everyone blinks as Norris falls to

his knees. Rolls over. Flat out.

The stadium is stunned. Norris, still on

the deck, looks bewildered. He glances to

his corner and elsewhere for instructions.

Then he rises and walks to his seat as Tyson

retreats to his. He does not limp. Or look

damaged. A deafening wave ofsound comes

from the crowd as police sprint by me towards

the ring. They form a wall around it.

Inside the ring, the referee immediately

decides Tyson unintenrionally hit Norris.

He won't be disqualified. Norris sits on his

stool surrounded by his team. Someone rs

rubbing one of his knees. He didn't look

injured when he walked bacL to his corner,

but now he's claiming he can't go on.

Tyson shadow-boxes in a neutral corner

waiting for the second round to begin. He

loosens his legs off and keeps moving.

Opposite him in Norris' coffler there's a

flurry ofactivity. An official is consulted.

You can sense that tlis fight is going nowhere

fast. I know what's coming next. It's over.

The roar ofabuse from the crowd makes

my head spin. Another line of security men

and armed police run by me. People begin

sprinting for the exits. The atmosphere is

suddenlyhotand claustrophobic. The crowd

is on its feet, angry that another Tyson fight

has slid into farce.

"Bullshit!Bullshit!" they

chant. The word echoes round the vast arena.

[orrfu will reeoive his purs€ Liort{rat

night. Tyson's will be withheld for almost

a week while an enquiry is held. Eventually

he'll receive his $8.7m fee. The headlines

will come out against Tyson claiming that

he's once more brought shame on boxing.

Nevada boxing commissioners will add their

voices, saying, "We're not prepared to have

any hoodlums fight in the state ofNevada."

Within 40 minutes ofstepping out of the

ring, a glazed-looking Tyson appears at a

press conference. He says that Norris should

have fought on. His handlers seem to agree.

Then he hangs his head: "I didn't know the

bell went off. I don't know what happened.

I was just fighting. I ju5t want to go home.

I'm tired ofeverything and everybody. I'm

caught up in all this political stuff. I don't

want to put up with this any more. I don't want

to fight anl,rnore, man, I'm just tired, tired."

He looks burnt out, reminding me ofthe

oddly prophetic engraving on D'Amato's

tombstone, words which describe the way

he developed Mike Tyson for the ring and

for life: "A boy comes to me with a spark of

interest. I feed the spark and it becomes a

flame. I feed the flame and it becomes a fire.

I feed the fire and it becomes a roadng blaze.

"

Soon, the world has a new undisputed

heavyweight champion: Lennox Lewis. A

Tyson-Lewis match is talked up. The

Manchester fight is announced for this

rnonti. New schemes for his never-ending

comeback will be mapped out. The flame

will be fanned back into life.

I can picture him back in a gym somewhere.

Feeling safe and accepted. Dressed

in haunted black. The sweat running in thick

rivers offhis face. The blasting r.p music

obliterating infiusive doubts. His eyes always

sealed. The leather rope in his hands whipping

that confining, fetid ah. The perpetual

and lethal whispering behind his back. @

FEBRUARY 2000 t q.nit- 159

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