Death and boxing have been too-frequent topics during my career.
Sometimes, it’s too personal.
It was 1990. Mike Tyson had just lost more than his world heavyweight championship. His sister Brenda, the only one in his immediate family with whom he was truly close, had died. About the same time, my brave wife Marilyn lost her long battle with cancer, the reason I did not go to Tokyo for the Buster Douglas fight.
Mike was 15 or 16 when Cus D’Amato introduced me to the "future heavyweight champion of the world" and over the years, the reporter-athlete relationship had grown warm.
Mike would call me at home occasionally about Tawana Brawley, whom Tyson had supported before it became increasingly clear that she may have been lying about being attacked by white men in upstate New York. Mike phoned to ask if he had done something wrong by giving her the Rolex off his hand and, under the leadership of promoter Don King, establishing a fund for her.
"No, Mike," I assured him. "You saw a hurt child and you went to help. That she may be a sick puppy is no mark on you. What you did was beautiful."
He thanked me and hung up.
Another time, he was in Tokyo for his two-round blowout of Tony Tubbs. Mike called to tell me he was kind of lonely. He heard the clatter of knives and forks over the phone and apologized for interrupting dinner.
Later, when under the influences of Robin Givens, Ruth Roper and Mr. King, he bolted from Bill Cayton, Kevin Rooney, Jose Torres – the people who had helped make the juvenile delinquent into a rich champion.
I wrote a New York Daily News column entitled "Happy Birthday, Ingrate." In his first fight after the bust-up, he was facing Frank Bruno in Vegas and on the wall of Johnny Tocco’s old gym where he was training, the column was featured on the wall. I mentioned it to Johnny and he said, "He carries a copy with him in his pocket."
But those were the days when King and "managers" John Horne and Rory Holloway tried to keep Tyson away from anyone from the "old days," which I guess included some members of the press. But there was this press conference, for who knows what, and Mike broke free of the Horne-Holloway chains and raced over to embrace me.
I said I was sorry about Brenda, he consoled me on the loss of Marilyn.
"All the rest is bull," he said.
There are no words to console Mike now. This was, I promised last week, before the heartbreaking loss of his 4-year-old daughter Exodus, going to be about the acclaimed James Toback film, "Tyson," that I had just seen.
I was offended by the one-sided view of the so-called "documentary." There were no rebuttals from Desiree Washington, Don King or Evander Holyfield – just Mike giving his side of the stories.
The movie was more propaganda than realism. There were archival clips of some of Tyson’s boorish behavior, the rant against a hapless reporter at the press conference where he bit Lennox Lewis on the leg and the munching of Holyfield.
But the dominating personality was a mellowed Tyson.
It was a Tyson we had seen many times in the past, even before he committed other atrocities, like the road-rage attack of the two middle-aged jockey-sized men in Maryland. If nothing else is true, Tyson is indeed a Jekyll-Hyde character.
Hyde complained anew that it was Holyfield’s head-butting that caused him to snap his teeth around Evander’s ears. There was no mention of his trying to break Frans Botha’s arm in a clinch, or hitting Orlin Norris after the bell, a tactic he used often.
The real reason he lost to Holyfield, twice, may be that when he pulled that stunt in their first match, Evander hit him right back. Before the ear-biting rematch, another former trainer, Teddy Atlas, had predicted that when Tyson didn’t get his way, he would do something to get out of taking another beating, maybe even biting to get disqualified.
But it all seems so trivial now. A negative review would seem like piling on. I look at my own daughter – Marilyn’s daughter – a beautiful grown woman of 27 and I can’t fathom what it would be like to lose her.
Mike Tyson, the wise and good one, explained it beautifully to me once:
"All the rest is bull."
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz