WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Who can Mike Tyson turn to for a character reference? The mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, for one, and the leader of Nevada’s largest shelter for battered women, for another.
Their letters of support were among those sent last year to New Zealand immigration authorities considering the visa application he made to travel Down Under. They were among hundreds of pages of documents from New Zealand and Australia released last week and earlier to the Associated Press under those countries’ public records laws.
In the end, the Australians concluded the former boxing champion and convicted rapist failed their character test — but they decided to let him come tell his story anyway in five November shows. New Zealand denied him a visa.np
In the U.S., Tyson’s show “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” ended a 10-week tour spring Sunday after a run on Broadway. The show has garnered critical praise for its candor, although Tyson remains a divisive figure in popular culture.
Tyson has traveled abroad extensively, including to Europe and South America. New Zealand had initially decided to let him in as well, but changed its mind when a children’s charity that was supposed to benefit from Tyson’s visit said it didn’t want any money from his tour.
Tyson served six years in prison for a 1991 rape. He said in his New Zealand visa application that he was not guilty of that crime, but was responsible for several subsequent arrests. He wrote that he had abused drugs and alcohol through much of his adult life but had been clean and sober for more than three and a half years.
Included in Tyson’s New Zealand visa application was a character reference for him and his wife, Lakiha, written by Marlene Richter, the executive director of Las Vegas-based women’s shelter The Shade Tree.
Richter said the shelter’s children “loved seeing Mike Tyson” last June when the Tysons rented an ice cream truck and handed out Popsicles and cones to more than 300 women and children.
In an interview last week, Richter said she faced an ethical dilemma about whether to allow Tyson to support the shelter, given his violent criminal past.
She said she was impressed by the way he seemed dedicated to the children and followed through with promises. The Tysons later auctioned fight memorabilia, she said, raising about $20,000 for the shelter.
“I don’t know if he’s 100 percent changed,” Richter said. “But I felt he was trying.”
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford also gave Tyson a character reference, mentioning his notoriety but saying he had helped make the resort city the center for boxing on the East Coast. He wrote that the city was “ever so grateful to him and his dedicated efforts on our behalf.”
In Australia, officials concluded Tyson failed that country’s character test because of his criminal convictions. They looped in the immigration minister, who let Tom Wodak, the immigration department’s principal character decision-maker, have the final say.
“All indications are that Mr. Tyson has rehabilitated,” Wodak wrote in an email to staff approving Tyson’s visa. Wodak added that the short duration of his trip and the fact his family would be accompanying him “all point to the likelihood of an incident-free visit, and thus to a risk of further offending that is not unacceptable.”
During his Australian “Day of the Champions” tour, Tyson appeared in five cities without incident, except for some fans who complained that they had paid extra to meet him in person and had left disappointed.