Mike Tyson might not have been the greatest heavyweight champion in history, but he’s definitely the most intellectual.
Asked to name his all-time favorite book, the retired boxer and all-around social phenomenon doesn’t hesitate.
“The Count of Monte Cristo,” Tyson says in that much-imitated voice. “Awesome. That’s some real stuff right there.”
Betrayal by supposed friends.
Escape, followed by a revenge tour.
The parallels to Tyson’s own incredible life are many.
More recently Tyson, who appears in a traveling one-man show called “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” has been reading about psychopaths.
He instantly saw himself in Kevin Dutton’s recent release, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.”
“These psychopaths, they have a perfect memory,” Tyson says. “That’s the reason why they’re so depressed and miserable. They’re able to remember everything.”
Tyson, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has done plenty of things he’d prefer to forget, can relate.
“If you ever see a depressed person . . . they hold on to everything,” he says. “They play with pictures all the time.”
The trick, Tyson says, is to learn how to let go.
“Look at my wife,” he says. “She has the worst memory in the world. She doesn’t remember her middle name sometimes, but she’s always happy. She makes me sick sometimes. She’s too happy. Always laughing.”
Remarried since 2009, Tyson wishes he could be more like the former Kiki Spicer, his third wife.
“I ask her how she does that, and she says you have to let it go,” Tyson says. “Our minds want us to be mad and miserable. That’s what we fight against. Me? I have too much going on.”
Tyson, 46, could stand on that stage for two weeks straight and still not completely unburden himself.
One of our most compelling and controversial sports figures ever, Tyson didn’t just burn through an estimated $300 million in career earnings.
He didn’t just go to prison for three years on a rape conviction, didn’t just throw away a chance at being the greatest heavyweight who ever lived, didn’t just lose a 4-year-old daughter in a tragic accident.
Along the way, he accrued enough wisdom and experience to fill three lifetimes.
Tyson draws upon that journey in his critically acclaimed stage show, which debuted this April in Las Vegas, had a 12-night run on Broadway in August and could soon go international. He and his wife share executive producer credit.
“My delivery has improved,” Tyson says. “I can’t come across like an arrogant schmuck.”
Spike Lee helped sharpen his act.
“He put it up there on a level I’m proud to be associated with,” Tyson says.
While in New York, a number of seasoned actors and directors came backstage, Quentin Tarantino among them, and told Tyson he could become a “really serious actor.” Anyone who saw his cameo in “The Hangover” would agree.
What about hecklers?
“I had a few,” Tyson says. “They just happen. When they happen, I handle it.”
Not in the way you might think. Not by jumping down into the crowd and pummeling the agitator.
That was the old Tyson.
“I’m the kind of guy, I work with the heckler,” he says. “I tell him, ‘This is what I love to do. Come with it, OK?’ If the heckler shoots, I shoot back. Then again, I might not shoot at all. Depends on how I feel that particular night.”
He’s still working up the nerve to add a song-and-dance component, but the man who launched a thousand quotes is clearly grooving on being heard again.
Tyson says he gets the same adrenaline rush from performing onstage as he once did from climbing into the ring.
“What they have in common,” he says, “is if you’re not on top of your game, you’re going to humiliate yourself.”
And the biggest difference?
“I don’t have to go to the hospital afterward,” he says.
No disputing that.