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Mike Tyson on addiction: 'I won't survive if I don't get help'

Aug. 29, 2013 at 7:35 AM ET

Mike Tyson is trying to save himself once again — before it’s too late.

"I won't survive if I don't get help," he told Matt Lauer in a TODAY exclusive interview. 

In his first public comments since admitting his latest struggles at a press conference, Tyson, 47, told Lauer he has been sober for 12 days, but that he's been "mean and irritable" in that time. 

"It's a real challenge because...I don't know if I like this sober guy.'' Tyson said. "It's hard for me to live normal. Straight is hard. Livin' straight life is hard."

The former heavyweight boxing champion spoke with Lauer, making his first public comments since a candid press conference on Aug. 23 in which he revealed an ongoing struggle with substance abuse and admitted to having suicidal thoughts. Tyson, 47, was promoting a fight at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona , N.Y., when the press conference turned into a confessional.

“I'm on the verge of dying because I'm a vicious alcoholic," Tyson said at the press conference. "I've been lying to everybody else that thinks I was sober, but I'm not."

Between a cameo role in “The Hangover’’ and a successful one-man show called “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” on Broadway, he is in the midst of a career renaissance. His new show, "Being Mike Tyson," premieres on Fox Sports 1 on Sept. 22 and his HBO show "Undisputed Truth'' and memoir of the same name will arrive in November. Still, he told Lauer, he still struggles with demons that have haunted him his whole life. 

"Yeah, it is kinda strange and scary,'' Tyson said. "I was born that way." 

Despite his admitted failures, Tyson has tried to come to grips with his personal pain. 

"Oh, 100 percent,'' he told Lauer. "No one failed more than I did. Nobody's seen more than I've seen. I'm the king of the barbarians. There's no one that could surpass me, and the pain I've endured. But I can deal with it. I can handle it." 

When Tyson returned to his old Brownsville, Brooklyn neighborhood for a TV taping, serious emotions came flooding back. 

"Everything just started creeping up on me, hitting me...I started dealing with old wounds that opened up and it was just overwhelming."

"It told me a lot — I found out a lot about myself,'' Tyson told Lauer. "I'm still a scared little boy. Still afraid. I'm very vulnerable. I was very vulnerable. Being in Brownsville, evoking memories and places I've done things to people that — shootouts, robberies — and, you know, think of things I may have done to people here." 

Tyson's father abandoned the family right around the time he was born, and his mother died when he was 16. He was repeatedly arrested for committing petty crimes and got into frequent street fights until he found boxing. 

He echoed his comments to reporters on Aug. 23. 

"I'm a bad guy sometimes. I did a lot of bad things, and I want to be forgiven,’’ he said in the press conference. “So in order for me to be forgiven, I hope they can forgive me. I wanna change my life, I wanna live a different life now. I wanna live my sober life. I don't wanna die."

Tyson told reporters he had recently gone to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because of anxiety over an anticipated meeting with his former trainer, Teddy Atlas, with whom he had a falling out 31 years ago. The two had not spoken since, but they embraced and had a short conversation on Aug. 23. Atlas was serving as a fight commentator for ESPN.

"Maybe it was overwhelming to Teddy and he didn't get it yet, but he has to know that this is sincere,’’ Tyson said at the press conference. “I don't want to fight you no more. I was wrong, I'm sorry. I was wrong, and I just wanted to make my amends. If not, at least I could die and go to my grave and say I made my amends with everybody that I had hurt."

The rift between Atlas and Tyson began in 1982 when a then-15-year-old Tyson approached a young girl who was related to Atlas’ wife in a crass manner, according to Atlas' autobiography. Atlas got wind of the incident, borrowed a gun from a friend, and fired a shot at Tyson that deliberately missed in order to try to scare Tyson straight. Atlas has since been critical of Tyson. But on Aug. 23, it seemed the rift had started to heal.

"He behaved like a man, what can I say?" Atlas said to ESPN broadcast partner Joe Tessitore. "He came over, extended his hand and asked me if I'd shake it and said, 'You're not still mad at me, are you? I wish you wouldn't be.' I give him credit for showing a gentleman's side."

There are some things Tyson won't apologize for. Tyson served three years in prison from 1992-95 after being convicted of the 1991 rape of then-18-year-old Desiree Washington, Miss Black Rhode Island, in an Indianapolis hotel room. 

"I don't really think I have to make amends to that, because I've done nothing,'' Tyson told Lauer about Washington. "I really didn't do anything to her. I didn't rape her. I didn't beat her, I didn't do anything to her. And I'm not gonna make amends. I made amends to myself. But to her, no."

In an interview with “Nightline’’ in July 2012, Tyson said he had been sober for three years. At the press conference on Aug. 23, he told reporters he had been sober for the past six days, adding, “I’m never gonna use again.”

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