The team behind Hulu’s Mike didn’t set out to portray Mike Tyson as a hero or a villain, but the series is bound to elicit strong reactions as the story pertains to his marriage to actor Robin Givens. Played by Laura Harrier in Mike, Givens married Tyson in February 1988 after about a year of dating. Within months, however, she publicly accused the boxing champ of emotional and physical abuse, as their marriage grew increasingly volatile.
During a joint interview with Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20 in September 1988, Givens described their marriage as “torture, pure hell, worse than anything I could possibly imagine.” Adding that Tyson had a “volatile temper,” she told Walters that her husband would scream, throw things, and shake, push, and swing at her as part of what she believed to be scare tactics. “There are times when I thought I could handle it, and just recently, I’ve become afraid,” Givens shared. “I mean very, very much afraid.”
Though Tyson later admitted to punching Givens, he denied her claims of domestic violence and spousal abuse at the time, implying that she was manipulative and after his money. When Walters asked about the possibility of divorce, he replied, “My wife would just have to ask for it and she has every penny I have,” adding, “She can leave right now ... take everything I have and just leave.”
A month after the ABC interview aired, Givens filed for divorce in October 1988, citing spousal abuse as her reason for ending their eight-month marriage. After a judge granted her a temporary restraining order, Tyson was quoted in a November 1988 New York Post article as saying Givens tried to “steal” his money and property, also criticizing his estranged wife’s mother, Ruth Roper, according to the Associated Press. The same month, Givens, who was vilified in the press, filed a $125 million libel suit, claiming that her ex’s comments subjected her to “public contempt, ridicule, embarrassment, disgrace, and prejudice.” Their divorce was later finalized in February 1989.
Following the divorce, Givens adopted her first son, Michael, as a single mom in 1993. Six years later, she and now-former partner, tennis star Murphy Jensen, welcomed a second son, William, in 1999. (She and Jensen split in 2002.) “I’m in love with those two boys,” Givens, who shared she was clinically depressed after divorcing Tyson, told Oprah Winfrey in 2004. “And life is so good. And I'm here to say also that I'm sure there are people who have felt like I felt. Like maybe they couldn’t go on. And you can turn a corner. You can be happy again. You can live.”
Professionally, Givens has consistently acted since the 1980s, and in recent years, she added producing and directing credits to her resume. Some of her more recent acting roles include playing Josie McCoy’s (Ashleigh Murray) mom, Sierra, in The CW’s Riverdale, as well as Jada Jet in Batwoman. In 2020, she also made her directorial debut with Lifetime’s A Murder to Remember, later directing episodes of Riverdale and Dynasty, among other projects.
As Tyson has continued to badmouth her — or “re-victimize” her, as she put it to People in October 2020 — in the media and in his 2012 one-man show, Undisputed Truth, the painful memories sometimes return. “The marriage was eight months of my life and yet he's still saying slanderous things on his podcast,” she told the magazine. “He’s not physically hitting me anymore, but it hurts almost as much.”
As such, Givens also devotes time to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and speaks to women across the country about her own experiences. “My story was very public, but when I speak to women and I sit in shelters and I hold children, I realize that the details of our stories are the same,” she added. “My story is your story. Your story is my story.”
She’s come a long way in the past 30-plus years; as she summarized, “I have a really, really nice life now.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.