By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury said he "tasted death" during the mental health crisis that brought him to the brink of suicide but is back and on a mission to help others.
The British fighter shocked the world in 2015 when he defeated long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko to capture the IBF, WBA and WBO belts.
But he was stripped of those belts the next year after alcohol and drug use rendered him unable to compete.
He ballooned in weight and few, including Fury himself, thought he'd ever see the inside of a ring again.
But he rediscovered his love of boxing and the sport he walked away from proved to be his salvation.
"I've been to hell and back and I've been given a second chance at life," he told Reuters.
"I turned my life around from 420 pounds and suicidal thoughts on a daily basis to getting back to the top of the heavyweight division," he said.
"To almost taste death and to come back to this level has definitely been a blessing."
Fury said he is passionate about helping others who struggle with mental health issues and has embarked on speaking tours in the UK and Europe to spread the word to those suffering that they can get better.
"On the second return journey, I'm doing as much as I can to help others in needy positions and as much as I can to spread the word on mental health and smash the stigma because everybody deserves a second chance."
The response has been overwhelming.
"People are flying in from all over to say thank you. You've saved my brother, my uncle, my cousin, my wife. One guy flew in from Malaysia to thank me personally and give me a hug.
"So it means the world, it means so much to get the recognition for the help," he said.
Fury credits his own turnaround to the purifying effects of exercise, something he recommends but only up to a point.
"Anyone in the midst of a mental health crisis should immediately contact a doctor," he said.
"I believe that if you do suffer from mental health, and I know a lot of people out there do, having a little training program really works," he said.
"I don't mean like a high-performance athlete, I mean just on a regular, day to day basis. What you can manage as an individual.
"Whether it is a little 10-minute walk or a jog, whatever you can manage. And if you can maintain it like a daily thing, I think it really does help."
FEELING 'FANTASTIC' AHEAD OF UPCOMING BOUTS
Fury said he feels "fantastic" ahead of his Sept. 14 bout with Otto Wallin and his highly-anticipated Feb. 22 rematch with Deontay Wilder but said mental health struggles always lurk in the background.
"There's a great song the Eagles wrote called 'Hotel California,'" Furry said while, appropriately, speaking to Reuters in a hotel room in downtown Los Angeles.
"You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave," he said.
"I believe that's mental health because you can get well -- you can check out any time you want -- but you can never leave it because you're born with it.
Fury, who in February signed a reported $100 million contract with Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions to have his fights broadcast on ESPN, said he is now content to live in the moment.
"I don't have long term goals, I only live day to day," he said.
"My long term goal is to be happy and well and healthy. And anything after that is a real bonus. Nothing is guaranteed in life and nothing is promised.
"We're not even promised tomorrow morning so we've got to live and enjoy the moments we have in time, and that's all we have is moments in time," he said.
"I'm making the best of every moment in time I have as of late."
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)