Promoter Don King on ‘Top Chef,’ Josie Smith-Malave, Mike Tyson & More
The wild-haired boxing promoter’s newest passion: cooking shows—specifically, Top Chef and chef Josie Smith-Malave. King tells Allison Samuels why eating Josie’s fried chicken is a religious experience.
Boxing promoter Don King never met a camera he didn’t like. Yet over the last few years the man with the wild hair and larger-than-life personality has shied away from the public appearances and television talk shows he once was famous for. At 81, King, who promoted fights for everyone from Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, George Foreman, and Evander Holyfield, could comfortably rest on his laurels and considerable fortune. But King isn’t content to do that. Also famously known for his ability and willingness to speak nonstop on any given topic, King shares with The Daily Beast his latest passion for the art of cooking, ideas for his own television network, and thoughts on being Tyson’s least favorite person.
It seems you haven’t been as visible lately. Any reason in particular?
I’ve been around and I always have something to say about everything. I was supposed to do Piers Morgan on CNN, but he wanted to tape it and I said no. I got be live to get the full effect of me and what I have to say. I don’t want to be edited and cut. Freedom of speech, you know what I mean? This is America, home of the free and land of the brave. I was out there last month talking about that film Black November that told the story of how the oil spills are killing Nigerians big time. That’s what I’ve been talking about, but people aren’t interested in that. No, sir! That’s why I’m working on my own network to get my word out the way I want it and when I want it. It’s going to have all types of people on it giving all point of views. It’s coming, so look out for it.
You have a big problem with the Bravo show Top Chef and the way it handled a contestant recently.
Chef Josie Smith-Malave is my reason for the season today. She got booted off Bravo’s Top Chef last week and it was unfair and prejudiced. I’m a black man and I know prejudice. She’s a woman with a mind and opinion of her own, and that’s what got her booted off. Not her work. Her sex. I love women and I have to fight prejudice in all forms, so I’m speaking out like this so people know what happened and how wrong it was. I’m American and proud of it, and America is better than this. Get Josie back on the air because her fried chicken is finger-licking good.
Have you ever tried her fried chicken?
No, but I know it’s good.
So when did you become such big a fan of cooking and cooking shows like Top Chef?
Well, I’ve always loved to eat, so that’s not new. You can’t eat if there isn’t some one cooking, so I love cooking and the cooks who cook it. You can’t live without eating, so we all should be a fan of cooking and cooks, if you ask me. I watch cooking shows because I love competition of all forms, but it has to be fair. I don’t care what they are competing about, it has to be based on the skill and not the person’s race, sex, or personality. Some people didn’t like Josie’s personality, but Dr. Martin Luther King fought for everyone to be free. Blacks, gays, women, and everyone. Josie is a melting pot of races, and she must be supported because she is what America looks like today.
Has your love for food replaced your love for boxing and promoting?
Oh, I’m still promoting fights. I have one on HBO in March between Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne. And a few others this year, so I’m still in the game in a big way. I’m always going to be a promoter. That won’t change. I’m a capitalist and I love the capitalist system. I’ve done well with the capitalist system, if you know what I mean.
As a longtime Republican, how did you feel about Barack Obama being reelected president?
I love it! He ran the best show, and he ran it like a businessman runs a business. He beat Romney with less money because he had a smarter campaign, plain and simple. He beat that negative stuff put out about him without batting an eye. He’s a fierce competitor, and I like that in a man. They tried to trip him up, but he didn’t fall for it. I don’t know what the Republicans will do next, but Obama changed the game. A black man changed the game.
Let’s talk Mike Tyson. You represented him for years, but he blames you for many of his career and financial woes. How do you feel about him?
I love Mike Tyson. I made a whole lot of money with Mike Tyson. A white man wouldn’t have made Mike Tyson all that money, and Mike Tyson knows that. I love seeing him in movies and on television. I’m happy for him to do his thing. But Mike has to blame someone for whatever is wrong, and it sounds good to say me. I make for a good villain. Blaming me gets people talking, and I understand how that game works. You gotta get your attention any way you can. But you must understand that Mike is a vestige of the ghetto, and so many things were new to him about this business. He didn’t understand many things that happened to him. He won boxing titles, but that doesn’t mean he had a Ph.D. But I will always love Mike, no matter what he says about me. Now, tell your people to vote on Twitter to support Chef Josie at #savechefjosie. We have to get her back on the air now. Tell them to save a good woman who makes eating fried chicken a religious experience.
So you’ve been told?
Right. So I have been told.