“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.” That was the iconic opening beamed into living rooms during the 1980s. Sure, the show only actually ran for four years, but it gained a fanbase that exists to this day. And plenty of the cast are still around to talk about it.
When the The A-Team debuted in 1983, it proved so popular that it actually reversed the fortunes of the stricken NBC network. Co-creator Stephen J. Cannell told People magazine in 2000, “It lived in its own world. And it delivered on its promise that this was gonna be different, funny, and in-your-face.”
The A-Team was indeed all those things and more. George Peppard’s Hannibal, Dwight Schultz’s Murdock, Dirk Benedict’s Face and of course Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus went down in TV history. They made for a fantastic group – a cartoonish general, a howling mad pilot, a handsome charmer and a tough guy afraid of flying. Any one of them could have carried a show, but put together they were TV magic.
And audiences could forgive the massive leaps in logic – (why was the team’s van so distinctive if they were supposed to be in hiding?) – because the characters were so cool. Every episode featured Hannibal, Face, B.A. Baracus and Howlin’ Mad Murdock coming to the aid of innocents with lots of style and, of course, lots of guns.
Despite the presence of so much weaponry, The A-Team remained charmingly family-friendly through its run. Whenever a gunfight happened, both the team and their enemies would conveniently miss every shot they took. And to have the heroes killing anyone was completely out of the question. Kids were watching! Only one on-screen death was ever recorded, and it wasn’t graphic.
Those kids are adults now and alas, the adventures of the A-Team are no more. Tastes changed, and the show couldn’t sustain its simplicity forever. The creators tried to jazz things up in the fourth season by throwing in a lot of celebrity cameos, including Hulk Hogan and more bizarrely Boy George. But it was to no avail.
So the show finished in 1987, and it ended with more of a whimper than one of its explosive bangs. Because NBC didn’t even air the final episodes in order. The episode “The Grey Team” was supposed to be the series finale, but somehow the channel missed the penultimate episode, “Without Reservations,” and aired that as the finale instead… as part of reruns.
It wasn’t quite the end, though. There was a movie version of The A-Team in 2010, starring amongst others Liam Neeson, which at least proved there was still an appetite for the characters. And there are rumors to this day that a remake might happen. But what about the original cast? Where are they now?
Let’s first look at Carl Franklin, who played Colonel Roderick Decker’s associate Captain Crane. He was only on the show for two years, so he might not be as well remembered as some of the other actors. And to be fair, Franklin himself doesn’t seem to consider The A-Team a highlight of his career.
In 1995 Franklin told The New York Times, “Most of my roles were doctors and cops. I did them to pay the bills. I kept getting really disillusioned with acting, but I needed those jobs because I was married, I had two children.” In the end, he ended up switching careers.
Franklin is now a director and a successful one at that. He’s the man behind films such as Devil in a Blue Dress and High Crimes, but you’ll have most likely seen his name on the small screen. Because he’s directed episodes of shows including Homeland and The Pacific, and he got an Emmy nomination for his work on House of Cards.
And then there’s Colonel Decker himself, Lance LeGault. He was already fairly well-known before The A-Team. Because he’d been in other movies and, perhaps most notably, he was actually a stunt double for Elvis Presley in some of his films! But it was his role as Col. Decker that really made him famous.
Plus LeGault really enjoyed his time on the set of the show. In 2011 he told the website Galactica.TV, “The A-Team was wonderful, because we had George Peppard. George was a great actor. I knew him from the time I was doing a picture with Elvis over at Paramount when he did The Carpetbaggers…So when I went on to The A-Team, I said ‘Hello’ and revived his memory.”
In the same interview LeGault remembered The A Team as one of the most famous shows he’d ever been in. He told the website, “The show was so popular. I think there were 28-29 million people watching it every week. Hey listen: it still runs today! Some people think we just finished making it last year or so.”
Sadly LeGault passed away in 2012, at the age of 77. He left behind a wife and four children. And obituaries for him made note of both his work with Elvis and his skill at playing military men like Decker. His fantastically deep, gravelly voice was also fondly remembered.
You know about the men of The A-Team, but what about the women? Unfortunately, there weren’t all that many. In 2006 Dirk Benedict told the British show Bring Back The A-Team, “It was a guy’s show. It was male-driven. It was written by guys. It was directed by guys. It was acted by guys.” But the best-known female character was Melinda Culea’s Amy Allen, a reporter.
Culea had very little to do as Amy. By all accounts the women on the TV show were intended to be eye candy rather than characters in their own right. And apparently Culea found the atmosphere on set to be that of a boy’s club. Dwight Schultz referred to some “little problems” with her in a 1984 interview with TV Guide magazine.
Culea herself said to Radio Times magazine in 1983 that she wanted a bigger role on the show. But she went on, “I’m having to do it really slowly. I can’t get it fast. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. If I get really excited and demand things, the men don’t listen. It takes a while for women to get respect from men.”
The story goes that George Peppard disliked Culea. But the flip side is that the male cast members privately believed the show never needed a girl character anyway. This was reiterated in Bring Back The A-Team. The show was about Vietnam War veterans (men) for one thing. Whatever the truth, Culea ended up being fired after filming only a handful of episodes.
These days Culea doesn’t act anymore, although she’s been in some pretty big things including The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Instead she’s an executive producer, which apparently earns her more than enough money to live comfortably. She’s also a writer, releasing her first novel back in 2016.
What of George Peppard himself? Well, he didn’t get on with all his fellow cast members if the story about Culea is true, and apparently there wasn’t much love lost between him and Mr. T either. In 1987 while appearing on a show called On The Jazz he told presenter Terry Wogan all about that.
According to Peppard, Mr. T made unreasonable demands about firing some crew members, including a British wardrobe lady who Peppard liked. In the end they weren’t sacked, but the older actor was still angry. He told Wogan, “It did irritate me. I didn’t speak to him for 16 weeks.” But he added, “We got over that and we went about the show. The show comes first.”
The show did indeed come first for Peppard, because it made him rich. In 1990 he told the Los Angeles Times, “Four California divorces and 25 years of alimony will see to it you have no money in the bank. It [The A-Team] was a giant boost to my career, and made me a viable actor for other roles.”
When asked, “You never worried that The A-Team might hurt your career?” Peppard answered, “Hurt my career? [Before The A-Team] I couldn’t get arrested.” Despite an early starring role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in the years before being cast as Hannibal, Peppard was broke and had a drinking problem. So The A-Team changed everything for him.
Sadly one of Hannibal’s habits, the constant cigars, was one that Peppard shared. And it may have led to his death. Because in 1992 he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and only two years later he died of it after getting pneumonia. Even more tragically, he was just about to star in another TV show, a Matlock spin-off called The P.I.
Peppard may have been one of the biggest names in the cast at first, but it was Mr. T who became the breakout actor of The A-Team. Reportedly this angered Peppard, but he couldn’t do much about it. Everyone wanted more B.A. Baracus, and eventually Mr. T’s salary surpassed the older actor’s.
The details of Mr. T’s early life are fascinating. He worked as a bouncer throughout the mid 1970s, one with a truly badass image. His birth name was Laurence Tureaud, but at the age of 18 he legally changed it to Mr. T. Why? Because having grown up in an era where racism was more common, he was determined that everyone use the respectful moniker of “Mr” for him.
And Mr. T broke out as an actor when Sylvester Stallone cast him in the film Rocky III. But it was The A-Team that made him a household name. To this day people go around yelling the catchphrase “I pity the fool!”, even though B.A. Bacarus never actually said that on the show. He’d actually said it in, you guessed it, Rocky III.
Both before and after The A-Team Mr. T led an incredible life. He was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 1995 – the irony of its name was not lost on him – but he didn’t let that slow him down. He continued to dabble in wrestling right up until 2001, getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014.
Mr. T is still a big guy with a big presence. Most of his famous big chains have gone – he gave them away as an act of solidarity after Hurricane Katrina – but he’s still instantly recognizable. He’s so iconic that when he appears in commercials these days, you would pity the fool who didn’t know who he was.
On the show there was always comedic tension between B.A. Baracus and Dwight Schultz’s Murdock. But if things had been different, Murdock wouldn’t have been in the show at all. Because the producers didn’t plan to keep him as part of the A-Team after the first episode. However, test audiences liked him so much they had to keep him.
Schultz was pretty much a complete unknown when he got the role of Murdock. In 1985 the actor told the Los Angeles Times, “When I read the original script, I thought the part was wonderful and very funny. I thought I could adapt it to my talents, which involve versatility as opposed to charisma and personality.”
But the actor said in the same interview that he hated being typecast. Schultz told the newspaper, “No matter how versatile you are, you’re only seen as being versatile in a very limited format. Casting directors ask, ‘Can he be real?’ They see me as only being capable of doing off-the-wall humor, of making funny sounds, of doing Jonathan Winters’ voices.”
Yet today Schultz is known for roles other than Murdock. Not only has he done a few movies, he’s played Lieutenant Reginald Barclay in the Star Trek franchise, which commands a fandom even bigger than that of The A-Team. So hopefully that convention money won’t dry up anytime soon.
That’s not all the showbusiness Schultz still dabbles in though. He’s done a lot of voiceover work, most notably in the popular kid’s animation Ben 10 and video games such as Wolfenstein: The New Order and Fallout 4. He also once had a political podcast which was called, of course, Howling Mad Radio.
That just leaves Dirk Benedict, another actor who almost didn’t get the role now synonymous with him. At first a different actor named Tim Dunigan was all set to play Face. But at the last minute everyone involved, including Dunigan himself, decided he was too young to play a Vietnam vet. So Benedict got the role instead.
And Benedict enjoyed his time on the A-Team very much. In 2009 he told the Metro newspaper, “It was a comedic show, almost like a cartoon. We just had to hang on to enough reality to make it possible for adults to watch it. The actors I worked with, especially Mr. T and Dwight Schultz were very funny people. It was pretty much four years of laughter.”
After The A-Team finished, Benedict continued to bounce around the entertainment world. He did theater work, movies, books, wrote and directed a film called Cahoots in 2001, and then suddenly reality television came calling. In 2007 he appeared on the British show Celebrity Big Brother.
Alas, Benedict’s stint on reality television probably didn’t endear him to many people, especially not his fellow contestants. He complained about his housemates waking him up and at one point grouched, “This is such a girlie show, that’s why all the guys left. It drives you nuts!” He did however finish in third place.
Since then Benedict’s fallen off the radar a bit. He did pop up in a brief cameo in the 2010 A-Team movie, but the film wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed. Despite the lingering possibility of another reboot, it seems that the original A-Team will always be foremost in people’s minds. And can you blame them? It was car-blowingly good after all.