Mike Tyson is a former heavyweight boxing champion who’s served jail time and appeared in several films
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1966, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight boxing champion of the world in 1986, at age 20. He lost the title in 1990 and later served three years in prison over rape charges. He subsequently earned further notoriety by biting Evander Holyfield’s ear during a rematch in 1997. Tyson has gone on to appear in several films, including a documentary and Broadway show on his life.
Michael Gerard Tyson was born on June 30, 1966, in Brooklyn, New York, to parents Jimmy Kirkpatrick and Lorna Tyson. When Michael was two years old his father abandoned the family, leaving Lorna to care for Michael and his two siblings, Rodney and Denise. Struggling financially, the Tyson family moved to Brownsville, Brooklyn, a neighborhood known for its high crime.
Small and shy, Tyson was often the target of bullying. To combat this, he began developing his own style of street fighting, which ultimately transitioned into criminal activity. His gang, known as the Jolly Stompers, assigned him to clean out cash registers while older members held victims at gunpoint. He was only 11 years old at the time. He frequently ran into trouble with police over his petty criminal activities, and by the age of 13, he had been arrested more than 30 times.
Tyson’s bad behavior landed him in the Tryon School for Boys, a reform school in upstate New York. At Tryon, Tyson met counselor Bob Stewart, who had been an amateur boxing champion. Tyson wanted Stewart to teach him how to use his fists. Stewart reluctantly agreed, on the condition that Mike would stay out of trouble and work harder in school. Previously classified as learning disabled, Mike managed to raise his reading abilities to the seventh-grade level in a matter of months. He also became determined to learn everything he could about boxing, often slipping out of bed after curfew to practice punches in the dark.
In 1980, Stewart felt he had taught Tyson all he knew. He introduced the aspiring boxer to legendary boxing manager Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, who had a gym in Catskill, New York. D’Amato was known for taking personal interest in promising fighters, even providing them room and board in the home he shared with companion Camille Ewald. He had handled the careers of several successful boxers, including Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres, and he immediately recognized Tyson’s promise as a heavyweight contender, telling him, “If you want to stay here, and if you want to listen, you could be the world heavyweight champion someday.” Tyson agreed to stay.
The relationship between D’Amato and Mike Tyson was more than that of a professional trainer and a boxer—it was also one of a father and son. D’Amato took Tyson under his wing, and when the 14-year-old was paroled from Tryon in September 1980, he entered into D’Amato’s full-time custody.
D’Amato set a rigorous training schedule for the young athlete, sending him to Catskill High School during the day and training in the ring every evening. D’Amato also entered Tyson in amateur boxing matches and “smokers,” or non-sanctioned fights, in order to teach the teen how to deal with older opponents.
Mike Tyson’s life seemed to be looking up, but in 1982, he suffered several personal losses. That year, Tyson’s mother died of cancer. “I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something,” he later told reporters. “She only knew of me as being a wild kid running the streets, coming home with new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. Professionally, it has no effect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.” Around this same time, Tyson was expelled from Catskill High for his erratic, often violent behavior.
Tyson continued his schooling through private tutors while he trained for the 1984 Olympic trials. Tyson’s showing in the trials, however, did not promise great success; he lost to the eventual gold medalist, Henry Tillman. After failing to make the Olympic team, D’Amato decided that it was time for his fighter to turn professional. The trainer conceived a game plan that would result in breaking the heavyweight championship for Tyson before the young man’s 21st birthday, breaking the record originally set by Floyd Patterson.