Previously Known For: The A-Team, Rocky III and WrestleMania
|Currently Known For: Dancing with the Stars and WWE Hall of Famer|
“Any man who doesn’t love his mama, can’t be no friend of mine!” One of the most outspoken Christians in Hollywood despite his tough-guy exterior, Mr. T is best known for his performance as the tough-talking Clubber Lang who took on Rocky in Rocky III. Building his reputation around his signature Mohawk, gold chains and his “I pity the fool” catchphrase, Mr. T went on to play the good guy in the successful 1980s television series, The A-Team. Adding in credits in Diff’rent Strokes, Saturday Night Live, I Pity the Fool and Dancing with the Stars, the 65-year-old is an all-around success story after growing up on the rough streets of Chicago, Illinois.
The youngest of 12 children, Lawrence Tureaud was born on May 21, 1952 in The Windy City and, even as a child, dreamt of a better life for himself beyond Chicago’s dangerous streets as he witnessed murders and other crimes throughout his neighborhood. He knew his natural athleticism was the ticket out of Chicago and earned a full scholarship to Prairie View A&M University. However, Mr. T was still undisciplined and rough around the edges, which is why he was expelled only a year later and found himself sitting in the office of a military recruiter. He signed on with the United States Army and finally found the discipline he needed to make something of himself as he climbed the ranks and was elected “Top Trainee of the Cycle” before being discharged. By then, he was running out of options when a knee injury took him out of the running for his biggest dream—playing professional football with the NFL.
Refusing to let the injury stop him from finding success, Mr. T put his massive stature to good use and signed on as a bouncer at a local club where, after seeing a picture of a Mandinka warrior in National Geographic, he started wearing a Mohawk and added gold chains to toughen up his look. The new wardrobe worked as Mr. T broke up hundreds of fights and won every lawsuit against him as he later said, “I have been in and out of the courts as a result of my beating up somebody. I have been sued by customers whom I threw out that claimed that I viciously attacked them without just cause and/or caused them great bodily harm as a result of a beating I supposedly gave them.”
Mr. T’s incredible knack for protection soon made him a common name among big celebrities like Joe Frazier, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Steve McQueen and Muhammad Ali who hired the Chicago native as their bodyguard on numerous occasions. Guaranteeing his clients complete protection, Mr. T spent the next decade working as a bodyguard before entering his first Toughest Bouncer in America contest in 1979. “In 1979, before I got famous, there was a contest called the Toughest Bouncer in America. I used to bodyguard for some celebrities and other people, and when I wasn’t doing that, I used to work at a disco as a doorman or a bouncer,” Mr. T recalled. “When I started training for the contest, I called my pastor… I said, ‘Pastor Hardy, they’re having a contest and when I win this contest I’m going to give you the money, so you can buy food and clothes for less fortunate people in the community.’ I won two years in a row—it was over $10,000. I didn’t have a car then, but I was blessed. So, I gave the money freely and then my blessing came back in the form of Rocky III.”
A month after donating his winnings to the church, Mr. T was called to audition for the part of Clubber Lang in Rocky III after Sylvester Stallone spotted him at the America’s Toughest Bouncer competition. “They sent me the script and I auditioned and I got the part,” Mr. T said. “I’d like to think that because I gave freely, it came back to me.” Already a fan of Stallone and the Rocky films, Mr. T didn’t think twice about the opportunity and asked to be billed in the credits as Mr. T, a name he believes shows great respect. “When I was old enough to change my name, I changed it to Mr. T so that the first word out of someone’s mouth was ‘Mister,’ a sign of respect.”
After Rocky III, Mr. T was a household name and was cast as Bosco “B.A.” Baracus on The A-Team from 1983 to 1987. Adding in appearances on Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Saturday Night Live, Mr. T didn’t stop at acting and ventured into the world of professional wrestling where he appeared in WrestleMania I and WrestleMania II with many attributing Mr. T’s inclusion in the events as part of the reason why they’ve had such incredible staying power over the last two decades.
Starring in his cartoon series titled Mister T and even given his own brand of cereal, Mr. T was at the height of his fame in the 1980s and knew it. “I have the Midas touch,” he said, “in the way that when I hook up with a project, I feel, not speaking cocky or conceited, but there’s a confidence I have. I learned that from Muhammad Ali; I used to bodyguard him. He taught me about confidence. So, when it comes to any job I work, I’m gonna do it good. I’m going to bring it over the top.”
By the 1990s, Mr. T’s ability to bring it over the top wasn’t as welcome as the former Rocky III star made minor appearances in episodes of Blossom, Malcolm and Eddie, and Inspector Gadget. Then, in 1995, things took a downhill turn when he was diagnosed with a blood cancer known as t-cell lymphoma. With his diagnosis, Mr. T became a born-again Christian and stepped away from the spotlight to focus on his recovery. Thankfully, the 65-year-old seems to be in better health today, especially after putting on his dancing shoes as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in 2017. Although he didn’t win the competition, Mr. T remains in good spirits saying, “I give freely. I give all my time, give all my money, give all my soul. I try to motivate people. I try to inspire them.” He certainly does that and more.