Monday, February 12, 2007


One now gets the sense that the only way it will end for Michael Gerard Tyson is badly.

With the troubling reports continuing to emanate from Scottsdale, Arizona that the former two-time heavyweight boxing champion of the word, and once proclaimed "baddest man on the planet" has been arrested for DUI and cocaine possession, we now all get the message that Mike Tyson’s life has shattered into a million pieces of ruin.

At just about two o’clock in the early morning hours of December 29, in the dark streets where Indian School Road and Drinkwater Blvd. cross, Mike Tyson now age 40, was stung by a Scottsdale police task force conducting a DUI sting.

Tyson had just exited a local nightclub and was behind the wheel of his late model, black, BMW 745I. According to the police report, Tyson was observed to be driving erratically, his vehicle was weaving in traffic and he failed to yield at a stop sign. Later, Tyson’s vehicle nearly collided with an undercover SUV that would ultimately intercept him. For the man formerly known as "Iron" Mike Tyson, it would be just another addition to a well known rap sheet that began nearly three decades ago as a twelve year-old boy on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

The arresting officer searched Tyson’s person and vehicle and "observed a white powder substance on the center console of the vehicle, Mike was wiping the dash off as I approached."
Tyson also possessed "two bags of a white powder his back left pocket. In addition a bag was located on the driver seat in a Marlboro cigarettes pack." That substance was later deemed to be cocaine.

According to the police report, Tyson "performed poorly on the one leg stand, walk and turn" and was arrested for operating under the influence. A drug test confirmed that Tyson was under the influence of a depressant, a stimulant and cannabis and he was subsequently informed in court today that he would be charged with felony drug possession.

If anything has become clear since Tyson’s latest brush with the law, it is this – his life has an eerie parallel to that of former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Regarded as a man of violence, Liston was a menacing, brooding, dead-eyed fighter that held the heavyweight championship from 1962-1964. Tyson has stated on many occasions during the past decade that he has a strong affinity and feeling of kinship with Liston whose life ended tragically premature.

In a strange pilgrimage shortly before he self-destructed by biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in front of a worldwide audience in June 1997, Tyson visited Liston’s final resting place at Paradise Memorial Gardens in Las Vegas and placed flowers on his grave marker. It was seen as a strange attempt to connect with another troubled soul that Tyson views as his kindred spirit.

The similarities are striking. Both Liston and Tyson served stints in prison for a variety of offenses. Tyson was imprisoned several years in the early 1990’s for raping Miss Black America beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington. Liston’s longest stint behind bars was for robbery and assaulting a police officer. Both men were born into extreme poverty yet fought their way to the highest heights of the sporting world in becoming heavyweight champion of the world. Both had troubled childhoods, numerous brushes with the law and often blamed the public and press for their litany of problems. Neither could ever overcome the labels put on them by a fickle public as "crass, uneducated, oafs with a penchant for crime".

Charles "Sonny" Liston would die alone under mysterious circumstances in 1970 at his home in Las Vegas. Although his death was ruled by a coroner to be of natural causes, Liston’s body contained traces of heroin, yet he was purportedly terrified of needles and was not an intravenous drug user. Many blamed Liston’s association with the Las Vegas underworld and the mob for his death.

Like Tyson today, Liston was seen as a tragic figure that had a kind heart, but was misunderstood throughout his life by the press and public as nothing more than a sullen, illiterate, thug. Tyson, like Liston before him, is an ex-con who was paid to be violent. Unfortunately, the public has never been able to separate the fact that although Liston and Tyson were bred for violence - they were also human beings.

Despite their successes in the ring, both men struggled to cope in a society outside the ring that only saw them as mean-spirited criminals incapable of human interaction and decency. In contrast, those who knew Liston personally counted him as a great friend who had a warm spot in his heart, especially for children. Tyson, in more solvent times, was known as a generous philanthropist who contributed vast sums of his former fortune to numerous charities, worthy causes and individuals in need.

Despite his many good deeds over the years, Tyson realized several years ago the sad plight of his existence, and the often-introspective fighter once had this to say, "My life is doomed the way it is. I have no future. I feel bad about my outlook, how I feel about people and society, and that I'll never be part of society the way I should."

As much as Tyson has the strong connection to Liston, Sonny had a similar feelings for former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Liston attempted to model himself after his hero who was celebrated as an American icon and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in 1981. In the late 1960's, both Louis and Liston resided in Las Vegas - as would Tyson in the 1990’s. There is a story that Louis and Liston would often get together in Las Vegas to party, drink, do drugs and gamble together until the wee hours. Liston was just happy to be with his boyhood idol.

After Louis’ boxing career ended in 1951, he was socked with a huge tax debt by the IRS and spent the remainder of his years a broke, alcoholic who also turned to the warm embrace of illegal drugs. Louis was once incarcerated in a Colorado insane asylum and suffered through many years of his life hearing voices that weren’t there and with the fear that imaginary people were trying to kill him. Louis once said, "Nobody wants to die, but everybody wants to go to heaven." Joe Louis died in Las Vegas a near penniless, wheelchair bound, cripple, dimly aware of his tragic surroundings.

Joe Louis, Sonny Liston and now Mike Tyson. Three former heavyweight champions of the world with a lot in common not only in the ring but outside of it as well. Those who knew Liston had a saying about him and it could easily be applied to Tyson’s tragic life today; "He died the day he was born".

Attached to the arresting officer’s report in the Tyson case are a few comments that Tyson made after his arrest. It speaks to utter desperation. It speaks to a man that is grasping at straws. It speaks to the fact that Mike Tyson’s life is one of despair. "I’m an addict" stated Tyson, who also admitted that the cocaine found in his pockets was indeed his. "I use it anytime I can get my hands on it."

When they discovered Sonny Liston’s dead and bloated body inside his Las Vegas dwelling in 1970 there was an unread newspaper that had been delivered to his modest, well kept home and left on the front doorstep. The newspaper was dated December 29, 1970.

Exactly 36 years ago today.

December 2006

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