SOME 25 five years ago, shortly before he was sent to prison, Mike Tyson told those of us who cared to listen that he did not expect to live until he was 30. ‘Someone will shoot me before then,’ he mused after a return visit to Brownville, that gun- riddled quarter of New York where he grew up in a crack- house. He was 25 at the time. Four years later, as he prepared to make his comeback to the ring after serving his time for that rape conviction in the Indiana State Penitentiary, Iron Mike still doubted he would make it to his 30th birthday. Last Thursday a different Mike Tyson turned 50. Not the completely mellowed Mike who some fancy the once Baddest Man On The Planet has become. But a man who has inverted his personality, with his native intelligence, humour and sometimes child-like compassion taking precedence over his troubled instinct. Most of the time. Tyson is still capable of a ferocious reaction if angered by an impudent question or hostile provocation. Only now it is more verbal than physical, albeit somewhat menacing still. But he has turned his life around. After squandering nigh-on $400 million by lavish spending – I once saw him buy a six-pack of Rolls Bentleys at a Las Vegas dealership – he has come back from the bread-line to a comfortable living. Not by using those sledgehammer fists but by engaging his intellect. During his heyday knocking opponents unconscious in the ring, that intimidating aura blinded most of the world to a brilliant mind. His was a
street-wise, uneducated genius. A dazzling but undirected kaleidoscope whirred inside his head. The perceived wisdom is that he only began the reading which sorted his brain into some kind of order when he was in jail. Yet he talked knowledgeably about such matters as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Chairman Mao’s revolutionary philosophy before he went inside. In contrast to the image of the brute, his first act when released from prison was to go to the nearest mosque. Not only to pray but to take breakfast with Muhammad Ali, who had helped and encouraged his conversion to Islam. It was not one of Ali’s better days in that earlier stage of his battle with Parkinson’s. As the hands of The Greatest trembled Tyson gently took the spoon from them and patiently fed his idol. The fighting went on for a while – outside as well inside the ring – but increasingly it became accompanied by a learning of life. He attributes his acquiring of maturity to the death of one of his children, a daughter whose neck was tragically caught in a running machine at his house while he was away on business. The proof of his intelligence has come with the one-man stage show about his life with which he astounded Broadway. The humour has shone through his starring appearances in The Hangover movies. The evidence of his compassion was witnessed first hand by Ali’s widow Lonnie immediately after her husband died. So touched was she by ‘the depth of Mike’s grief’ that when he decided at the last minute he could brace his emotions to attend the funeral in Louisville she added him to the pall-bearers.

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