Mr. T became a household name in the 1980s thanks to his role as charismatic Vietnam veteran B.A. Baracus in The A-Team. But, of course, the star wasn’t born with such a simple yet effective moniker. And the reason why he chose to change his name in the first place is certainly moving.
Way back before he became famous, however, Mr. T had his first brush with the showbiz world as a bodyguard. You see, as well as using his imposing size to protect the likes of preachers, prostitutes and teachers, he also took on some celebrity clients. They included pop superstars Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, champion boxers Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali and Hollywood legend Steve McQueen.
What’s more, Mr. T liked his role protecting the rich and famous. In a 2016 interview with USA Today, he revealed, “I enjoyed putting my life on the line. And when they’d say, ‘Thank you, Mr. T?’ Oh man, that was, oh, that was the greatest, that they appreciated what I did. Then I was happy. And that’s it.”
However, Mr. T’s tough-guy reputation saw him being offered all kinds of strange and often illegal jobs. Once, for example, he received a $5,000 advance through the mail by an anonymous individual who wanted someone killed. And although the star would have collected a further $70,000 had he carried the hit out, he wisely decided against taking on the job.
Then Mr. T began to become a celebrity in his own right when he entered NBC-TV tough-man contests in his twenties. In fact, he even emerged victorious as “America’s Best Bouncer” on the early ’80s show Games People Play. And his knockout performances impressed one particularly famous viewer, it seems.
Yes, after appearing on Games People Play, Mr. T received an offer for a key role in Rocky III by none other than Sylvester Stallone. The bodyguard accepted the part, of course, and so he played villainous opponent Clubber Lang in the 1982 chapter of the boxing franchise. It was in that movie, moreover, that he first uttered his most famous catchphrase: “I pity the fool.”
And in his interview with USA Today, Mr. T chose Lang as being his favorite character he has ever portrayed on screen. The actor explained, “It was inspiring, because [the character] is basically my life story. [Lang] wanted a shot, and people said he wouldn’t make it. I was in awe when they asked me to be in Rocky III.”
Then, after taking on another acting job in Penitentiary 2, Mr. T landed the defining role of his career: Sergeant Bosco “B.A.” Baracus in The A-Team. Baracus joined “Howling Mad” Murdock, Hannibal and Face in a gang of Vietnam veterans forced to go on the run after wrongly being convicted of a crime. And, incredibly, more than a quarter of all U.S. TV viewers watched the show’s first episode in 1983.
Furthermore, Mr. T ultimately became the show’s breakout star for his portrayal of the expert mechanic, who was famously terrified of getting on a plane. And his striking appearance also helped him become one of America’s most famous faces. Alongside an array of gold jewelry valued at approximately $300,000, Mr. T sported a Mohican haircut that was inspired by a member of the West African Mandinka tribe.
NBC quickly capitalized on Mr. T’s increasing popularity, then, with a spin-off cartoon titled Mister T. The star became a big-screen leading man for the first time, too, in the Joel Schumacher-directed D.C. Cab. And in 1984 Mr. T decided to attempt to help the nation’s kids through the motivational video Be Somebody… or Be Somebody’s Fool!, where he showed off his skills at rapping.
Nor was that the end of the A-Team star’s brush with music, as he also released the album Mr. T’s Commandments in 1984. And here, Mr. T once again attempted to educate youth with rhymes about the importance of education and the dangers of drugs.
In 1985, though, Mr. T went back to his tough-man roots by briefly becoming a professional wrestler. And he excelled at it, too, winning the inaugural WrestleMania as the tag-team partner of WWF golden boy Hulk Hogan. He also later took on “Cowboy” Bob Orton and Roddy Piper in two special WWF boxing matches.
What’s more, Mr. T has continued to make sporadic appearances in the wrestling world ever since. He cameoed as a WWF referee in 1987, for example, while he also competed against Kevin Sullivan at WCW’s Starrcade seven years later. Gene Okerlund even inducted the star into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.
This turn to wrestling wasn’t entirely out of left field for Mr. T, though, as he had previously competed in the sport while studying at Dunbar Vocational High School. And he showed promise, too, after having been crowned the citywide wrestling champion on two consecutive occasions. The star was also talented enough at football to have earned a scholarship to Prairie View A&M University.
But, naturally, Mr. T’s career truly flourished on the screen. Following the cancelation of The A-Team in 1987, the star nabbed the role of T.S. Turner, a street fighter accused of a crime he wasn’t responsible for, in T. and T. Alex Amini played the lawyer who helped to prove Turner’s innocence and subsequently became his private detective partner.
Mr. T would reprise his role as Turner, too, in the TV movie Straight Line. In the 1990s, he also guested as himself in episodes of the family sitcoms Out of This World and Blossom. And as a born-again Christian, he became a regular face on the Christian television network TBN.
But the actor didn’t only show up on the small screen during the ’90s, as he took on parts in movies Freaked, The Terrible Thunderlizards, Magic of the Golden Bear: Goldy III and Spy Hard during the decade. He also appeared as himself in the 1999 movie adaptation of Inspector Gadget.
And this was all despite a battle with T-cell lymphoma, which the star had been diagnosed with in 1995. Yet while Mr. T’s deteriorating health ultimately saw his work rate slow down, he nevertheless still managed to add to his filmography in the early ’00s with minor roles in Not Another Teen Movie and Judgment among others. He also provided voiceovers for episodes of Johnny Bravo and The Simpsons.
Meanwhile, Mr. T had undergone chemotherapy and radiation to treat his cancer, although he later told USA Today that his faith had helped pull him through. The actor said of his fight, “It was a test. And what is a test? A test is just a review of what you’ve learned. And I was taught that the only students who don’t like tests [are] the ones who didn’t study.”
Thankfully, Mr. T’s ex-wife Phyllis had also had his back during this difficult time. The pair walked down the aisle in 1971 and later had three children together: Lesa, Erica and T Junior. Erica is now attempting to become a star in her own right as a stand-up comedian, although her father reportedly isn’t happy about her embarking on that particular line of work.
Then in 2006 Mr. T landed his first major vehicle for nearly two decades: the reality show I Pity the Fool. The TV Land series saw the star dishing out advice to various individuals and small businesses across America – a real estate agency, a car dealership and a horse farm being among them.
However, the previous year had seen Mr. T decide to abandon one of his signature traits in respect to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The star said of his decision, “As a Christian, when I saw other people lose their lives and lose their land and property… I felt that it would be a sin before God for me to continue wearing my gold.”
With or without his trademark gold, though, Mr. T continued to show up on screen – most notably in various hit commercials. The most famous of these were the Snickers ads featuring the slogan “Get Some Nuts!,” but he also helped to advertise the likes of Hitachi’s Data Systems and World of Warcraft. And in 2008 the celebrity graced the Shopping TV network to sell his very own brand of “flavorwave” oven.
But Mr. T wasn’t done with movies at this point, as he ultimately returned to theaters as the voice of Officer Earl Devereaux in 2009 animated hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Then, two years later, he made the move to British TV as the host of clip show World’s Craziest Fools. And in 2015 Fuze Iced Tea became the latest brand to utilize Mr. T’s star quality in a series of ads.
Mr. T revealed yet another talent, too, after joining the 24th season of celebrity talent contest Dancing with the Stars. The 1980s icon teamed up with Kym Herjavec for the show, and the pair ultimately finished in tenth position in the 2017 competition.
Yet while Mr. T was definitely famous enough to earn a place on Dancing with the Stars, he naturally hasn’t always been a celebrity. Before hitting the big time, in fact, he was part of the U.S. Army’s Military Police Corps, where he ultimately earned a promotion to squad leader.
Then, following his discharge from the army, Mr. T attempted to resume the sporting career he’d pursued in his teens. But, unfortunately, a knee injury thwarted the future star’s attempt to land a deal with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, leading him to decide to use his formidable frame in another physically demanding role instead.
In fact, Mr. T actually developed his famous persona while working as a bouncer. Not only that, but the star’s vast collection of gold jewelry began through claiming the various pieces that people either lost or forgot about while at the club. Mr. T’s main role, though, was to ensure that the premises he guarded were free of drug users and dealers.
And, understandably, Mr. T sometimes found himself in sticky situations as a bouncer. He was embroiled in over 200 separate fights while on the job, in fact, and several people who were foolish enough to take on the future Hollywood tough guy in a brawl even sued him. However, Mr. T managed to emerge victorious in each and every case.
Plus, of course, Mr. T hadn’t been born with that name. Instead, he was known as Laurence Tureaud when growing up with his 11 siblings in an Illinois housing project. And sadly, his minister father abandoned the family when Mr. T was aged just five.
Furthermore – and according to the 1985 memoir The Man with the Gold – Mr. T witnessed violent crime on the level of rape and murder while still a child. The star has credited his mother, however, for helping him thrive in such surroundings. Still, on one occasion, Mr. T had to turn protector himself once when two criminals issued a death threat against his mom.
The star wrote in The Man with the Gold, “I will not say what I did to those n*****s who robbed and threatened to kill my mother, but I will say this: no one will ever see them again and I don’t have no hurt in my heart anymore.” He added, “I am at peace once again because I did what had to be done. And I pity the fool who [doesn’t] protect his mother.”
And Mr. T had chosen his familiar moniker as a way to oblige others to show him respect. In 2015 he told HuffPost, “I changed my name because as a black man growing up in [a] white society, I watched my father being called ‘boy.’ And he was a preacher.”
Mr. T continued, “I watched my brother coming back from the Marines and Vietnam and being called ‘boy.’ I watched enough black men in my family being called ‘boy,’ so I point to the fact: what does a black man have to do to get his respect as a man? So, when I became 18 years old, I legally changed my name to Mr. T.”
And Mr. T expanded on his decision in another interview. He is reported to have said, “When I was old enough to fight and die for my country, old enough to drink [and] old enough to vote, I said I was old enough to be called a man. I self-ordained myself Mr. T so the first word out of everybody’s mouth is ‘Mr.’”
Meanwhile, Mr. T was keen to point out to HuffPost that his adopted name is entirely legitimate. He added, “I’m not one of those rappers with a fake name. My driver’s license: ‘Mr. T.’ My passport: ‘Mr. T.’ And everything. My new birth certificate: ‘Mr. T.’ Legally, my name’s Mr. T.”
The actor continued, “Mr. T is short for my family name. I was born Lawrence Tureaud. Me and my father shortened it to Tero, but really that’s what it stood for.” Apparently, the star even made his own mother refer to him as Mr. T after officially changing his name.
But in an 2015 interview with Coca-Cola, the star claimed that the ‘T’ in his moniker can mean different things to different people. He explained, “To the women and children, the T in Mr. T stands for tender. To the bad guys and thugs, the T stands for tough. I’m tough when I have to be, [and] I’m tender when I should be.”
Mr. T added, “I’m an old-fashioned, overgrown mama’s boy. When I was nine years old, I drew a picture of a house and told my mother, ‘One of these days, I’ll be big and strong. I’m gonna be a football player and then a boxer.’ I said, ‘Mama, I’m gonna buy you a beautiful house and pretty dresses.’ And I’ve done that.”
However, in his memoir, Mr. T also claimed that he was put on this earth for much loftier reasons. He revealed, “Very few of you see the Godly qualities in me, because even though we know the truth we still lie. That’s why it’s so important that I come at a time like this… I have been chosen by God Almighty to be one of his messengers.”