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Mike Tyson: Knocking Down Demons

Recovering from drugs is the fight of MIke Tyson life.

You will be shocked once you see Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, a one-man stage show directed by Spike Lee for HBO Home Entertainment. While watching this honest, funny and intelligent account of the one-time heavy weight champion’s highs and lows, you’ll start to wonder if we’ve had him pegged wrong all along.

From his troubled upbringing and his standout career to money problems, prison sentences and the love he has for his children, the man known as “Iron Mike” tells his story in a way that casts a light on the fragility of his humanity. While he pretty much laid out his entire life in front of a live audience at Broadway’s Imperial Theater in New York City, he was excited to share even more with JET Magazine in anticipation of the DVD release of Undisputed Truth.

Below he talks about how substance abuse helped shape the events of his life, why he’s not ashamed of his past and what he really wants for his future.

JET: How does it feel to be back in the limelight?

Mike Tyson: I’m just trying to take it to the top. A few years ago, I was written off. I was going through horrific stuff. It was just one thing after another. It’s like I’m addicted to chaos.

JET: Speaking of addictions, when and how did you first start using drugs?

MT: Drugs have always been a part of my life. It was the culture I grew up in.

JET: Some people don’t like to revisit the past. Was making this show cathartic for you?

MT: I was by myself on stage and I feel like I gave an emotionally naked performance. I’m not ashamed of my past and I don’t wish to close the door on my past. My past is an indication of where I’ve been and how far I have to go. Very few people have come from the debts of squalor to the heights that I have come to. To come from so low and reach so high, I feel like a homeless person who has become president.

JET: Your former trainer Cus D’Amato was like a father to you. What was his opinion of your drug use?

MT: One time, I had just lost the finals in the Olympic trials. [I had been getting high before the fight and Cus knew it]. He said, “This must be some really good stuff for you to let down your ancestors.” That took a lot out of me.

JET: What drugs have you used?

MT: Marijuana, cocaine and I drank a lot of alcohol. All of my troubles stemmed from using alcohol. I would have never thought about cocaine if I wasn’t getting drunk. I always started with alcohol and then did everything else.

JET: What advice do you have for up and coming boxers about addiction?

MT: Everybody’s addiction is different. It’s not about me telling someone ‘Just don’t do it,’ and then they stop doing it. It is a process. There is a process of becoming addicted and there has to be a process of becoming un-addicted.

JET: What has helped you to remain drug-free?

MT: I was clean from 2009 to 2013. I had a relapse last year. Now, I’ve been clean for five months. You have to realize that you are powerless and the only way you can get back your family is through God. That is the only way back to sanity.

JET: What is it about drugs that keeps pulling you and others back into its grip?

MT: It’s an illusion of the best of times. Even people who have great jobs and marriages do drugs because it is an escape. It is euphoric. Until you start going to the dark side and then it becomes dark and ugly.

JET: What was it like working with your friend Spike Lee?

MT: Spike made me realize that I can do this stuff. He called us and wanted to be a part of it. He taught me that I can handle this and be on stage by myself. He made the show really gritty and hard and really beautiful all at the same time.

JET: So, what’s next for you?

MT: I promote fighters through my company Iron Mike Productions. A lot of young entertainers ask me to work with them. I can’t believe someone wants me to mentor them. I don’t look at myself as someone who is coming back, I look at myself as someone who is starting over. I think I’m out here grinding and struggling because I want so much more in life. I don’t see myself with the same eyes as everyone else. Sometimes people don’t see my flaws. I know my flaws. Not being in prison, not cheating on my wife, not being violent. That is success for me.

JET: As a fight promoter, what will you do differently than Don King?

MT: I will never hurt anyone the way he hurt me. But I allowed him to do those things to me. I put myself in that position. My goal in life is not to abuse people. My goal is to have great champions. I’m not trying to get rich. I’m trying to make the greatest fights that people have never seen before. I just want people to say this guy promotes the most exciting fights.

JET: We hear that you are testing your acting chops, tell us about your upcoming roles.

MT: I worked on the movie Algeria Forever, the first Algerian martial arts film. It’s set to release this year. I’m also doing voiceover on a cartoon for Adult Swim. I’m a detective with pigeons as my sidekicks. There is no airdate yet, but it’s set to release in 2014. Other than that, I’m reading different scripts.

For more of his story pick up a copy of JET Magazine on newsstands until March 10.