A few years ago, people wondered what planet Mike Tyson was on. Tonight, for the premiere of his new reality series Taking on Tyson (9 p.m. Thursday), he’s on Animal Planet.
The former heavyweight champion is the key figure in this astonishing six-part series which shows Tyson fully engaged in his very unusual hobby: training pigeons. No joke. The dude grew up in Brooklyn and has a lifelong fascination with the lowly pigeon. In fact, he threw his first punch when a neighbourhood bully killed one of his pigeons right in front of him. Now, with a few of his bird buddies, he breeds them and builds fancy coops for them. He races the pigeons as far as 965 km in distance where they’re tracked from coop to coop with GPS technology.
I ran into Tyson last January on the network press tour in Pasadena. He was at the least likely of places–Oprah Winfrey’s OWN launch party. But there he was, chatting up Oprah`s gal pal Gail King.
Not that long ago I would have been afraid to approach Tyson for fear he might chomp my ear off. But there he was, in a cool grey suit, checking out the snacks.
The way the guy has rehabilitated his image in the last few years could give hope to Charlie Sheen. He got raves for his comedy turn in The Hangover and told me he’d already shot his scenes for The Hangover II. I told him I genuinely admired his searing honesty in the 2008 documentary Tyson. He said he was moved to tears watching George Chuvallo articulate the painful loss of his family in Facing Ali, another excellent boxing biography.
Tyson can laugh at himself now as evidenced in the recent Comedy or Die “Oscar Talk” sketch he does with film critic Leonard Maltin. Critic Tyson thought The King`s Speech was more of that “only in America bullshit. I`ve heard enough of that for one lifetime.” Maltin told me Tyson was a pussycat at the taping, which came about rather quickly; Maltin says he got one day`s notice.
Check out the rest of that video below, and if you want to see a whole other side of one of boxing`s most feared champs, watch Taking on Tyson.