Published January 14, 2015
This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Iron Mike Tyson, he struck fear in the hearts of fighters in every ring before his life and career were nearly destroyed by personal demons and his own erratic, violent behavior.
Filmmaker James Toback's new documentary "Tyson" gives a raw behind- the-scenes at the fighter's troubled life from his childhood to today.
VAN SUSTEREN: James, thank you for joining us.
JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, "TYSON": Thank you for having me.
VAN SUSTEREN: James, so why Mike Tyson? Why did you do a documentary with Mike Tyson?
TOBACK: Well, I have known Mike for 24 years. And from the first night we met on the set of "The Pick-up Artist" at the Museum of Natural History, I have found him to be a fascinating, engaging fellow.
And over the years, he has gotten darker and more complex, and, really, a character of tragic dimension. And I felt that this would be a substantial and lasting portrait to do.
VAN SUSTEREN: In doing this film, did you learn anything that surprised you about Mike Tyson?
TOBACK: I learned two things that shocked me. One, how frequently fear pervades his being. I think "fear" is probably the word that appears most in the documentary, applied by himself to himself.
And his entire life has been finding ways of dealing with fear, overcoming the fear, imposing fear on his opponents.
And the second thing I learned, from the first second I put my ear phones on the first day of shooting, was that he has had respiratory problems. And he mentions having been asthmatic as a kid and having had trouble breathing.
And it is shocking, because you realize that anyone who has had respiratory problems as a kid, a childhood asthmatic, knows that there is a sense of panic that sets in regularly, wondering when is the next attack going to come?
And that, to me, became a kind of key to understanding Mike in a way I never had before, that kind of wild rage as a response to the delicacy and the vulnerability of breathing problems.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you -- when the movie starts and he talks about as a young man, basically on the streets as a young teenager, right?
TOBACK: Yes. He actually remembers from the earliest days when he was a kind of really raw kid with his mother, and being pushed around and robbed and treated like a short, fat kid, as he describes himself.
VAN SUSTEREN: So how did he make the transition from being the short, fat kid getting pushed around to be the boxer?
TOBACK: When he went to reform school and his guru in reform turned him on to Cus D'Amato, and he moved up to Cus's Victorian mansion in the Catskills when he was 12 years old, and Cus really ran a kind of militaristic, domineering environment, in which Mike was told either it is this way or it's goodbye.
And Mike decided to dedicate himself to this system, which was mental, philosophical, psychological, and physical, training him to become heavyweight champion and to become a warrior of the soul.
VAN SUSTEREN: Until that point, at age 12, though, it is not insignificant, he is already in reform school. So it doesn't seem like there was a lot of guidance at home that he ends up at reform school, right?
TOBACK: No, he had been in a gang. Once he decided that he was no longer a weakling, and it happened because some bully -- Mike collected pigeons, and a bully broke the neck of one of his pigeons in front of him and, in fact, defied him to something about it. And mike threw his first punch and knocked him down.
And from that point, he got a kind of respect in his neighborhood. And he was part of this crew that was, among other things, robbing drug dealers. And he was, because he was the shortest guy, he was the designated pickpocket. He would reach in and get the guy's wallet when they would come in.
VAN SUSTEREN: The thing that struck me is that he was getting money pressures. It had almost seemed like his whole career that someone had a hand in his pocket, taking his money.
I never got the sense that Mike Tyson was a happy guy, that things were going well for him, that he was financially stable, but rather that everyone else had sort of his hands in its pockets and pushing him out in the rings.
TOBACK: Well, I think that certainly has characterized a large part of this life. The boxing aspect of this life is fascinating. Up until the Holyfield incident, he loved boxing and wanted to be heavyweight champion and cherished being heavyweight champion.
That whole episode really soured him on it. And, at the same time, his financial problems started. And he readily admits that from that fight on, he was really just fighting for money.
And at the end, it became really tragic. He was getting beaten badly by fighters who should not even have been in the same city with him in his prime, and he was doing it only to, as he put it, pay his bills.
VAN SUSTEREN: Mike has obviously seen the movie. He's a big part of this movie. Does he like the movie?
TOBACK: The first time saw the movie was in a screening room in my editing facility. And he sat in the aisle with a white t-shirt, white pants, white sneakers, and white sox, and after about five minutes of silence, he said "It was like a Greek tragedy. The only problem is I'm the subject."
And when he saw it -- it got a huge ovation in Cannes, and I think that made him feel very good, except that he didn't see it them. He only came in at the end.
At Sundance, he saw it, and we got a great response there. And then I was kind of surprised. He said at the dinner afterward, how did he put it? He said, "I used to wonder why people were scared of me. They would say, he is a scary guy. I'm frightened of him. I would think, what are they talking about?"
He said, "Having seen the movie tonight, I actually felt I am scared of that guy."
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any chance that he will fight again? I know that he's an older guy now, but --
TOBACK: No chance.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
TOBACK: No, because he lost the psyche of a fighter. He lost the mind of the fighter. He was not -- he ceased to be, as he puts it, an animal.
His last fight against Kevin McBride, it is very clear. And that is close to the end of the movie, and you see it, and you see him talking afterward. And it's very clear that it is almost as if, and he didn't say this. I'm interpreting it this way -- he wanted to lose so that he would not have to fight anymore.
He clearly didn't want to fight. He said he has lost the fighting heart, is the way he puts it, and it is very clear that that was true and it still is true.
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