Baddest and loneliest man
NEW YORK — It can’t n’t be easy to say no to the Man on the Planet.
But Neil Leifer did d exactly that, turning down an invite from the one and only Mike Tyson.
Leifer is one of the best known sports photographers in the world. rld. The New Yorker has shot more than 200 covers for Time, Sports Illustrated and People le and he was the first snapper ever inducted cted to a professional sports hall of fame — the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014.014.
Twenty-six years before efore that honour, Leifer was photographing Mike Tyson in his prime. It was 1988, and Iron Mike was about to fight Michael Spinks in a heavyweight title bout in Atlantic City.
In Leifer’s eyes, Tyson was the biggest sporting name on the he planet at that point in his career, although gh “Michael Jordan was gaining on him”.
While Time magazine zine rarely put athletes on its cover, Leifer had been commissioned to shoot Tyson in Atlantic antic City for a preview story before the highly ly anticipated bout.
“Tyson was scheduled uled to train between noon and 2pm,” Leifer er wrote in his new book Relentless: The Stories Behind the Photographs.
“On the appointed ted day, noon came but Tyson n didn’t. Twelve-fifteen, no Tyson. One-thirty, no Tyson. n. His guys kept saying, ‘ Don’t worry. We’ll get him. We’ve got all his phone one numbers.’
“A half-hour later, er, when it was obvious us that Tyson was not ot going to train, they ey started calling his s numbers, including those of whatever ladies they knew he might be with. They didn’t reach him. They said, ‘Don’t worry. He’ll be here tomorrow. Every once in a while he decides to skip training.”
Leifer had time on his side — there was still two weeks s till deadline.
The next day, Leifer er returned. No Tyson. on. But it would be third ird time lucky.
“He trained, he came over to my makeshift ft studio and he was fabulous,” ” Leifer wrote.
It did not take longng for Leifer to produce his cover shot, having ing given considerable thought to the shoot in the lead-up. Now it was time forr supporting photos. The pair went forr a walk and Leifer took shots of Tyson talking to people on the boardwalk, at the he beach, catching pigeons in his hands s and finally they came across an expensive nsive Italian clothing store close to an n apartment the champ was staying in. n.
Leifer described Tyson yson as a “sharp dresser” and he thought ght photos of him trying on the fancy suits would be a good idea. Tyson agreed.
The shop owner closed the store while Tyson perused and Leifer snapped.
“I’d read about the queen of England going to Harrods and how the owner would close the store,” Leifer explained.
“It turned out to be a smart business move because Tyson went on a tear.”
By “tear”, Leifer meant Tyson went on a spending spree, buying a suit, sports jacket and shirts, handing over thousands of dollars.
After the shoot was when Leifer — who had been forced to wait two days to shoot Tyson — turned the tables.
“I had theatre tickets in New York that night, so I told him I had everything I needed and had to get back to the city,” Leifer wrote.
“He said, ‘ What do you mean? You got a hot date?’
“I told him I was taking my assistant to the theatre. Tyson said, ‘Hey, why don’t we go the movies?’”
Leifer went on to paint Tyson as a lonely figure, despite the fame and fortune.
“It occurred to me then that he didn’t have anybody to hang out with except the people who were hanging around, sucking up to him for a hand-out. I told him I really had to leave,” Leifer continued.
“‘Get her on the phone,’ (Tyson) said. talk to her.’ ‘I’ll
“I said, ‘Mike, I can’t do that. I promised I would take her to dinner and a show. I’ve got to get going.
“I finally left but I couldn’t help feeling bad for him.”
A year later, Leifer was commissioned to shoot Tyson once again, this time for Lifemagazine, and this time in Cleveland.
Again, Tyson “wanted to hang out”, Leifer wrote.
This time, Leifer agreed, going to lunch with Tyson, his promoter Don King and the mayor of Cleveland — plus two of “Mike’s people”.
Tyson then decided he wanted a dog, so they went together and he bought a St Bernard for “$800 or $900”.
After more “fooling around”, Leifer put it to Tyson that they needed to get the shoot finished, and the boxer locked in a time of 7pm that evening to meet and get it done.
“Eight o’clock came and went and so did nine,” Leifer wrote, describing it as the “Spinks assignment all over again” as Tyson’s people called all his numbers to no avail.
By 1am, King told Leifer: “I’ve got a feeling Mike’s not gonna show up. Don’t worry. I’ll get him here tomorrow.”
Leifer had a 4pm plane to catch that day, but was assured Tyson would make himself available before noon. But by 10am, Leifer became nervous and he, with King in tow, went in search of the heavyweight champion of the world.
King traced Tyson down to his girlfriend’s place, and they rang the doorbell. The girlfriend answered.
The woman told them Tyson was upstairs, and that’s when King turned to Leifer and said, “You’re on your own.”
“I went up and found Mike sitting on the edge of the bed. I sat down next to him. I said, ‘Mike, you’ve got to come with me right now. I can’t wait any longer.’
“Mike said, ‘I don’t feel like going right now.’ “‘But you gave me your word,’ I said. “He looked straight at me and said, ‘Well, Neil, I guess my word is no f*cking good.’ “And that was that.” The photoshoot never happened and Leifer was not a happy man.
“I must admit that when I left Cleveland that day, and for many years afterward, I was definitely not a fan of Mike Tyson,” he added.
The pair did, however, eventually sort out their differences.
“In the years since that day, I have watched him change into one of the nicest people I know, and I am proud to say that I consider him a good friend of mine.”