Football / FA Trophy Final: Boxing: Tears of the young Tyson: Owen Slot views a TV account of the life and strife of a vulnerable champion

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

IT IS 1982 and the scene is played out behind a boxing hall in Colorado, where a 15-year-old Mike Tyson is waiting to fight in the Junior Olympics. He has already knocked out his first opponent, but Tyson is overcome with fear, not of being hurt, but of not being up to it. And he cries, sobs unreservedly, and buries his head in the shoulder of Teddy Atlas, his trainer. 'Things go on in his mind,' says Atlas. 'Like he thinks he's not capable. He needs love; he needs somebody to be there.'

This is the most fascinating footage in Mike Tyson - The Untold Story, a documentary (BBC2, Saturday) which starts with his Brooklyn childhood and takes us through to his six-year prison sentence for rape. The section depicts an adolescent Tyson as both vulnerable and appealing; he is shown laughing with other young boxers during supper with Cus D'Amato, his mentor and adoptive father. Discovering this previously unseen footage was like striking gold, Barbara Kopple, the film-maker, said. She had hired a private investigator to track down the cameraman responsible, a German who had been filming, by chance, another of Cus D'Amato's prodigies.

The film's showing on NBC in the States caused something of a stir. News channels followed it up, showing in particular an interview with Rudy Gonzales, Tyson's chauffeur, talking about the post-Robin Givens years when the back seat of his limousine saw a steady flow of girls.

The film does not shed new light on Tyson the convict, yet it was food for a public whose appetite for him has diminished little. Don King, Tyson's manager, has a stranglehold on prison interviews - Kopple was turned down - so the rare interviews which are granted are big news, all establishing a sketchy portrait. The rumours abound: apparently he got married in prison, apparently he is the heavy for a jail gang. And he has discussed, particularly in an interview in Esquire, his conversion to Islam and his astonishing reading list: Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Voltaire.

It is not surprising, then, that Tyson's first television interview in prison chalked up large ratings. Kopple watched it with Steve Lott, Tyson's former assistant manager, who broke down in tears when he saw his old friend on screen.

The experience reinforced Kopple's respect for Tyson. She does not condone his crime, but she portrays him as a victim of circumstance: of his childhood, his success and of too many people fighting over him once D'Amato and Jimmy Jacobs, his first manager, had died.

Another story, previously unpublished, is that of Jerry Izenberg, a journalist, who relates how Tyson wept uncontrollably in an interview. 'This is a newly-wed,' Izenberg said, 'and he says 'They died and suddenly everything becomes money, money, money. I don't have anyone to talk to anymore'. '

It is not surprising, therefore, that Kopple should conclude her film with this extract from Tyson, in the famous television interview, reflecting on his former lifestyle. 'I don't like living like that, so maybe I don't want to be a big star no more. I just don't like that kind of life.'

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