LAS VEGAS - Mike Tyson is running late.
A reporter from a wire service had just wrapped up an interview, a photographer and reporter from Canada had arrived at his suite at the MGM Grand for a promised half-hour chat, and a crew from a Vegas TV station was scheduled to come in after that.
Tyson's wife, Lakiha Spicer, who goes by the name Kiki, puts a plate of vegetarian food in front of him, so the formal sit-down with the guys from the Great White North will have to wait a few minutes.
Tyson is asked if we can start interviewing him while he eats.
No problem, he says.
To break the ice, one of his visitors mentions Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo, at which point the former baddest man on the planet, his mouth full of steamed veggies, launches into a happy hum, his shoulders shaking and rolling -- like a little kid running down the stairs to a room full of Christmas presents.
As far as ice breakers go, this is a Russian Arktika class.
"I talk about him all the time," says Tyson, 45, who recently watched one of Chuvalo's haunting Fight Against Drugs lectures on tape. "We were talking about him yesterday. I was just looking at him and his life and I was watching him facing Ali one time ... and he told his story about his children and stuff.
"And I said, 'Baby, baby. Let's listen to him.' And me and my wife, just yesterday, started crying.
"He's a tough man."
No doubt about that.
For his part, Tyson is a changed man.
Which may be the understatement of the year.
The previous time I saw Tyson in the flesh, at the very same MGM Grand, he was gnawing on Evander Holyfield's ear like a crazed animal. That was 15 years, a rape conviction and numerous drug rehabs ago.
Today, on the eve of a new, one-man show -- Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth -- Live on Stage, which begins April 13 at the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand -- Tyson is willing to open up about his new life, which is profoundly different from his old one.
Later, when he's finished eating (Tyson is a vegan, which he says has completely calmed him down), he settles on a couch and is asked what turned his life around. Without hesitation, he answers that it was the death three years ago of his four-year-old daughter, Exodus, one of his eight children, in a household accident. Condolences are offered.
"Hey, don't worry," he says. "The hospital I was at, everybody's kids were dying up there. That's how I was able to accept it. People were coming up to me -- their kids were dying or dead already -- saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' Sorry for me?
"My kids don't deserve any better treatment than anybody else. Dead is dead. You know what I mean? (After that) all that training I got from AA and all that stuff, rehab, it started coming into effect." Tyson coughs and excuses himself for a moment.
"That was the turning point that I wanted to be a useful (person) in society," he says, clearing his throat.
Has Mike Tyson really changed? Or is this kinder, gentler version of the former juvenile delinquent from the tough Brownsville section of Brooklyn turned heavyweight boxing champion of the world, just an act or a slow burn before an inevitable meltdown?
Of course, nobody knows for sure. Not even Tyson.
His goal in life, he says, is to stay on the straight and narrow, to remain the Mike Tyson we see before us. He loves his life, his third wife, Kiki, his kids. But his old life, his old ways, are always right there, beckoning, enticing him to cross over to the dark side.
"A struggle," he says, when asked how he gets through his days. "Every day's a struggle. Even now.
"I have a wife and kids now. I have a great deal of outlets now. But every day's a struggle."
Tyson stops and asks if we can hold up for a minute, complaining that the room is very hot, which it is. When he settles back down, he continues:
"It's coming pretty easy. But I still wake up at two in the morning. Those are my party hours.
"When I was younger, I used to train at that time, go for a run. When I get up (now), I just go downstairs to my gym, work out, check the birds out, check the babies. This is what I do now. You exercise at two in the morning, instead of calling out. Before, instead of going out, I used to call people to come over and party at the house. But that's just not part of my life anymore."
It seems odd, he's told, that he would stick around Las Vegas, a place with so many dark corners. Vegas is Sin City. And there were few sinners as committed as Mike Tyson during, as he calls it, his "nadir."
But that's the whole point, he says. "Everything is my gauge. I have too many gauges here. 'Don't walk to the strip, Mike. Don't go this way, Mike. You can't go to the strip clubs no more, Mike. You can't go the after-hours (clubs) anymore.' "
He lowers his voice to a whisper. "You cannot go to your ex-lover's neighbourhood. It's just what you don't do. In New York City, you have no restrictions."
I guess it makes sense ... The devil you know, or whatever.
"Because," he says. "This is what I want to do. You know, Steve, in my heart, I want to do this."
He wants to keep living the way he is now. He wants to look after his children and honour his wife. The bottom line, he says, is he's grateful to have this new life, this second act. Deep in his heart and soul, he wants to live a decent life.
There were times during his heyday -- when he was knocking guys out with historic brevity and then shocking the world with frightening depravity -- when his gentle side was evident, when he talked about his former coach and mentor, Cus D'Amato, or his pigeons, or his love and respect for the old-time fighters, like Chuvalo. But then he would do something crazy, like promise to eat Lennox Lewis' children or threaten to make Razor Ruddock his girlfriend.
The man you see now seems incapable of such acts. He reaches into his soul when he talks. You can sense the regret, the struggle to be good. But there also seems to be a simmering anger, and a sense of self-loathing. He's still occasionally crude. But it's the thoughtfulness that's most surprising. He's a fascinating study, much deeper than any hack can comprehend to any great detail.
"This is how my ideology works," he says. "After all the ridiculous things (I did) -- I'm talking about when I'm really at my nadir in life -- I got a bunch of opportunities, right? And every time I messed up, I got deeper and deeper. I went to prison and came back out. I got more money than God at that time. But I didn't know what to do. I kept going back to my old ways, I kept going deeper, deeper and I was twice as bad as when I went to prison. And kept going deeper.
"And then I just started to try to do the right thing, try to respect my marriage with my wife. Try to treat my wife with dignity, which I've never treated a woman with before ... I don't ever had to (his voice drops to a whisper again), say 'Shut up bitch. Get out of my f---ing house. You don't care no more.' All that stuff. That's who I was. 'F--- you bitch. I paid the cost to be the boss.' "
Tyson stops for a moment.
Ten days after the death of Exodus, Tyson married Spicer, the mother of Tyson's daughter, Milan, and son, Morocco.
"I didn't want a wife at that time," he says. "I wanted a slave. I'm just so happy that she (Kiki) wants to do this. And in return, I want to do this. And for once in my life, I can be responsible and accountable for my children.
"And I won't have to say, 'I love my children, but they don't have my influence because of my performance as an absentee dad.' I don't know, I'm just very happy that my (older) kids can even talk to me, because they shouldn't even talk to me again, (after) what I put them through. But I'm just happy that we have a respectful relationship. I want more, but I'm happy with what I have with them.
"I'm just very content, hanging out with my wife and my kids right now," he says. "It's just something I've never done before, this is new to me. I've been married before, but I just never been committed before. I don't know.
"This is good, this is good stuff for me."