Laurence Tureaud was born in Chicago, Illinois, the eleventh of twelve
children; he and his four sisters and seven brothers grew up in the city's
housing projects. He was a college football star, studied martial arts, and won
a scholarship to Prairie View A&M University, Texas, but was thrown out after a
year. After that he went to a couple of small Chicago colleges on athletic
scholarships. After leaving college he was a Military Policeman in the U.S. Army
before trying out for the Green Bay Packers. His professional football career
was finished, however, by a knee injury. After this, his aspirations were set
higher - the first in his family to become a Broadway dancer. He began on his
journey by making connections to the celebrity community.
For about nine years Mr. T was a bodyguard to the stars, protecting such well-known personalities as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross. He charged around $3,000 a day and his business card famously read, "Next to God, there is no better protector than I." He always boasts that he never lost a client, saying, "I got hurt worse growing up in the ghetto than working as a bodyguard."
In 1970 he changed his name by deed poll from Laurence Tureaud to Laurence Tero and then in 1980 to "Mr. T" so that people would have to address him as "Mr." It was while reading National Geographic that Mr. T first saw the unusual hairstyle for which he is now famous, on an African Mandinka warrior. He decided that adopting the style was a powerful statement about his African origins.
During Mr. T's stint as a doorman, he would take jewelry from disorderly people and wear them himself as a testament to how well he performed his job as a bouncer. At at one point, his gold chains, rings, and bracelets were worth about $300,000. It took him about an hour to put it on, and most nights he cleaned it in an ultrasonic cleaner although some nights he slept in it "to see how my ancestors, who were slaves, felt."
In 1986 Mr. T removed many trees from his mansion in Lake Forest, Illinois explaining that he had allergies. This created a large controversy and led several North Shore communities to enact ordinances making the removal of old growth trees illegal.
In 2005, Mr T announced he would never wear his chains again saying, “No, T, you can never wear your gold again. It's an insult to God." He came to this decision after seeing the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. T also donated a great deal of clothing and money to Katrina victims. He has been reported to be working on a new reality television show for TV Land, called I Pity the Fool, which will find the devout Christian assisting those in need.
Mr. T currently lives in Sherman Oaks, California, and is single. He is a born again Christian.
In 1982 Mr. T was spotted by Sylvester Stallone while taking part in "The World's Toughest Bouncer" contest. His role in Rocky III was originally intended as just a few lines, but Stallone built up the part around the man. His catch phrase, "I pity the fool!" comes from the film, where he played a boxer facing Rocky Balboa in a match. When asked if he hated Rocky, he replied, "I don't hate Balboa, but I pity the fool."
Mr. T also appeared in another boxing film, Penitentiary 2, and in a cable television special, Bizarre, before accepting the role of B.A. in The A-Team.
In The A-Team, he played Sergeant Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus, an ex-army commando on the run with three other members from the US government "for crimes they didn't commit". When asked at a press conference whether he was as stupid as B.A. Baracus, he observed quietly, "It takes a smart guy to play dumb."
A Ruby-Spears produced cartoon called Mr. T premiered in 1983 on NBC. The Mr. T cartoon starred Mr. T as himself, the owner of a gym where a group of gymnasts trained. He would help them with their training, but they would also help him solve mysteries and fight crime. Sixteen episodes were produced.
In 1984, Mr. T made a motivational video called "Be Somebody or Be Somebody's Fool." He gives helpful advice to children throughout the video; for example, he teaches them how to understand and appreciate their origins, how to dress fashionably without buying designer labels, how to control their anger, and how to deal with peer pressure. The video is roughly one hour long, but contains 30 minutes of singing, either by the mob of children accompanying Mr. T, or by Mr. T himself. Mr. T sings "Treat Your Mother Right (Treat Her Right)," (video available here) in which he enumerates the reasons why it is important to treat your mother right, and also raps a song about growing up in the ghetto and praising God. The raps in this video were written by Ice T. That same year he released a related rap album titled Mr. T's Commandments.
He entered the world of professional wrestling in 1985. He was Hulk Hogan's tag-team partner at the first WrestleMania. Hulk Hogan wrote in his autobiography that Mr. T almost ruined the main event of WrestleMania I between them and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, because when he arrived, security would not let his entourage into the building. Mr. T was ready to skip the show until Hogan personally talked him out of leaving. Roddy Piper mentioned that he and other fellow wrestlers legitimately disliked Mr. T, because he was an actor coming into wrestling, and had not paid his dues as a professional wrestler. He returned to the World Wrestling Federation as a special guest referee in 1987, before disappearing from the wrestling world. He reappeared as a special referee for a Hogan-Ric Flair match, seven years later, in October 1994.
Mr. T was once reported to be earning around $80,000 a week for his role in The A-Team and getting $15,000 for personal appearances, but by the end of the 1990s, he was appearing only in the occasional commercial, largely because of health problems (in 1995, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma). He still seeks acting jobs and has had small roles in several films. He frequently appears on the TBN Christian television series. He has appeared in commercials for MCI's 1-800-COLLECT collect-call service, and on Late Night with Conan O'Brian.
References in pop culture
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