Mike Tyson’s Ongoing Mystery: Why Does Nobody Know Who His Real Father Is?
| Last updated
'Tyson' is among the most iconic, most intimidating, names in boxing - hearing it put real fear into the hearts of elite heavyweights who fought other men for a living.
But where does Iron Mike's surname actually originate from? "I don't know much about my father's family. In fact, I didn't really know my father much at all," says Tyson in his autobiography, Undisputed Truth.
"Or the man I was told was my father. On my birth certificate it said my father was Percel Tyson. The only problem was that my brother, my sister, and I never met this guy."
Percel Tyson - also spelled Purcell Tyson in some reports - is a mystery. He was a Jamaican who married Mike Tyson's mother, Lorna Mae Smith, after they met in New York. Yet the marriage did not last long, Mike never met him and his whereabouts remain unknown.
"We were all told that our biological father was Jimmy 'Curlee' Kirkpatrick Jr," he explains in Undisputed Truth. "But he was barely in the picture. As time went on I heard rumours that Curlee was a pimp and that he used to extort ladies. Then, all of a sudden, he started calling himself a deacon in the church."
Tyson adds: "Curlee would drive over to where we stayed, periodically. He and my mother never spoke to each other, he'd just beep the horn and we'd just go down and meet him. The kids would pile into his Cadillac and we thought we were going on an excursion to Coney Island or Brighton Beach, but he'd just drive around for a few minutes, pull back up to our apartment building, give us some money, give my sister a kiss, and shake me and my brother's hands and that was it. Maybe I'd see him in another year."
So it seems simple: Percel Tyson was married to his mother, but 'Curlee' Kirkpatrick was his biological father.
Except that in his hit one-man show, the former heavyweight champ has given a slightly different take. "Curlee was a pimp," he's said on stage. "Percel was a humble Jamaican cab driver. I so desperately wanted to be the son of a pimp... because, in my neighbourhood, that carries weight."
So did young Mike just prefer to call Kirkpatrick his biological father because of the street credit it delivered? Nothing is entirely clear, least of all - understandably - to Mike.
It's certainly true that Tyson maintained links with Kirkpatrick throughout his life. The boxer was said to be distraught when he died in 1992 while Tyson was in prison, although he reportedly did not request leave to attend the funeral.
The main parental figure Tyson had early in his life was his mother. But she lived a life of "poverty and chaos" as the ex-boxer describes it. Their relationship was an unstable one and she died from cancer when Tyson was only 16 years old.
By then, he had already been officially adopted by his first boxing trainer, Cus D'Amato. He became Tyson's legal guardian, so that his protege could live and train with him in his Catskill New York mansion.
In a sense, this gave Tyson a new father figure. He would refer with deep affection to D'Amato's partner Camille Ewald as his "adopted mother" long after the trainer's death. Yet his relationship with Cus was, as Tyson has since acknowledged, a complicated mix.
He credits the trainer with giving him the skills, discipline and self-belief to channel his abilities and become a hugely successful fighter. Yet D'Amato also stoked his rage and, deep down, Tyson likely knew he was only of interest to his guardian because of his prolific gift for violence.
D'Amato died in 1985 aged 77 when Tyson was 19, a year before he became the youngest ever heavyweight to win a world championship belt.
By then, Tyson was rapidly becoming a household name worldwide. But few asked for any details about the man officially listed on Tyson's birth certificate as his father.
"I'm still not sure who my father really is," confessed the 54-year-old in one of his stage shows. Perhaps, given the chaotic upbringing he endured, it is understandable if Tyson has never wanted to dig too deep into that particular mystery.
Imagery: PA Images/Mike Tyson Twitter