6:14 PM EST, February 3, 2013
The Most Interesting Man in the World isn't that old dude trying to sell us imported beer.
It's Mike Tyson.
You can label him so many things: Entertaining, introspective, vile, manipulative, exploited, cruel, kind, soft-spoken, and crass.
By far, he's the most engaging and entertaining athlete I've come across, and it's not just because he once bit off an opponent's ear.
I was there in Las Vegas that night, as well as some other famous and dubious pit stops along Tyson's career, which now takes a different twist as he prepares to hit the road this month for the national tour of his one-man show: "Mike Tyson, Undisputed Truth" directed by Spike Lee.
The tour will include more than 36 cities, including a Florida stop in Clearwater on April 17. The show begins on Feb.12 and 13 in Indianapolis, the city where Tyson was convicted of rape in 1992.
Some people were done with Tyson after that, and understandably so. But there are millions who have remained infatuated with Tyson, who has made strides along the redemptive road by, among other things, launching the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation to help children from broken homes.
Tyson is a classic example of why it's a bad idea to label athletes as good guy or bad guy. We never know the whole truth. Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis have provided ample evidence of that recently. Who knew deer-antler extract would permeate the conversation for Sunday's Super Bowl?
Athletes, like the rest of us, have done wonderful things. And things they will always regret.
The beautiful thing about Tyson is that he has never shied away from who he is: A high-school dropout who once admitted his life "has been a waste — I've been a failure." With all that dysfunctional lunacy as his dark passenger, Tyson emerged as one of the baddest men ever to roam the planet.
Give him this: The tortured soul is still alive after 46 years.
"I didn't think I would make it to 25," he said during a recent conference call promoting the show. "God blessed me that I went to prison that time. I was just crazy. I was so out of control. I didn't know how out of control I was until I was in prison. I took that as a blessing."
Reviews for the show, which first premiered on Broadway last year, have been spotty. Tyson takes you on a narrated tour of his turbulent times. And as the New York Daily News notes, the show reflects Tyson's life: "entertaining, fascinating and messy."
Make no mistake: Tyson feeds off all of that. Even though he no longer tries to maim people for a living, Tyson feeds off adulation, and needs the validation of someone who has never escaped from his insecurities.
Yep, the former world heavyweight champion can be a bit of a scaredy-cat.
I often think back to one of the most bizarre moments of my encounters with Tyson — in Don King's kitchen in Las Vegas, sometime in the early 1990s while Tyson was still a prime attraction.
I was part of a small group of journalists invited to King's house for a Tyson "roundtable" — a chance to chat with him up close, which often led to rambling introspective commentary.
Tyson's wife at the time had just given birth to a daughter and he got a little freaked at the thought of the infant dating some day.
After his media chit-chat, I tried to give Tyson some reassurances — as politely as possible — that each and every boyfriend would follow all the rules of engagement, since it may be suicidal to mess with Papa Tyson.
"That [blanked] me up thinking about it," Tyson said, as we munched on a takeout order of Popeye's fried chicken at King's breakfast nook.
Tyson doesn't eat meat anymore, by the way, since he's become a vegan.
That's the deal with Tyson. You'll run out of labels trying to stick them on The Most Interesting Man in the World.
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