T is for Mr. T!
Born Laurence Tureaud in the early 50’s, the man now known as Mr. T grew up in a crime-ridden area of Chicago. He stayed mostly out of trouble due to his family and especially his relationship with his mother. After high school and a year of college – from which he was expelled – he enlisted with the Army – and did well. After his discharge, he tried out for the Green Bay Packers but did not make the cut due to a knee injury.
He then got a job as a bouncer – and it was during this period that he created the Mr. T. persona. He started wearing jewelry left in the club around his neck – so people coming back to look for it would not have to go into the club to retrieve their lost jewelry – this eventually led to T wearing 18 lbs (!) of his own gold chains around his neck. After seeing some Mandinka warriors in an issue of National Geographic he cut his hair into a Mohawk like theirs - to show his solidarity with his African brothers.
After some years as a bouncer he moved on to being a bodyguard for such stars as Muhammad Ali, Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, Leon Spinks, Joe Frazier and Diana Ross. He did that for ten years.
|Working as a bodyguard - I notice his duties did not include preventing photobombing!|
While he was in his late twenties, Tureaud won two tough-man competitions – both of them aired as specials on NBC. The first was called America’s Toughest Bouncer – which he won.
The second competition was titled Games People Play for whatever reason – with the same setup – various physical stunts and a concluding boxing match. The standout moment came during a prefight interview with Bryant Gumbel T said "I just feel sorry for the guy who I have to box. I just feel real sorry for him." The boxing match was supposed to be three rounds, but Mr. T took out his opponent in 54 seconds. (!) Sylvester Stallone was watching that night and eventually cast Mr. T as his main antagonist in the film Rocky III – casting Mr. T as Clubber Lang – and even wrote in a modified version of what T had told Gumbel in 1980 – when asked in the film if he hates Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character – Lang replies "No, I don't hate Balboa, but I pity the fool."
After Rocky III, T was cast in another boxing sequel – Penitentiary II – and had a prime role in the ensemble comedy D.C. Cab.
|DC Cab - sharing the screen with Gary Busey.|
Next up was Mr. T’s high profile role in The A Team, which cast him as bruiser B.A. Baracus (B.A. stood for “Bad Attitude”).
|The A Team - left to right - Dirk Benedict, George Peppard, Dwight Schultz, Mr. T.|
It was during this series run that Mr. T had his greatest popularity – and he ran with it. He signed on for an animated series for NBC’s Saturday morning lineup – Mister T – which ran for 2 seasons and 30 episodes. T provided his own voice, and appeared at the beginning of each episode in live action, and again at the end of each episode to hammer home the moral lesson for the week.
What the heck - let's throw in the opening to the cartoon show!
|Mr. T even got a breakfast cereal out of the cartoon.|
Suck it, Urkel-Os!
In 1984, still riding the crest of his fame – Mr. T starred in a motivational video for children called Be Somebody…Or Be Somebody’s Fool! In the hour long video T helps children how to understand and appreciate their origins, how to dress fashionably without buying designer labels, how to make tripping look like breakdancing, how to control their anger, and how to deal with peer pressure. He also treats the viewer to some singing and rapping – with one song called "Treat Your Mother Right (Treat Her Right).” His rap – written by Ice-T - talks about growing up in the ghetto and placing your faith in God. The video sold well enough that an accompanying album was also produced.
In the mid 80’s T also jumped in to a minor wrestling career with WWE (then WWF) – teaming with Hulk Hogan for the main event against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at the first Wrestlemania special. He continued to make sporadic appearances with WWE for the next decade.
In 1988, a year after The A Team ended – T starred in a new syndicated series – T and T – and got a three season run out of it. The series’ opening narration sets up the premise:
“T.S. Turner was a city-smart kid fighting his way off the street, until he was framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Amy Taler was a young crusading lawyer. She mounted an appeal to put Turner back on the street, this time in a suit and tie, working as a private detective. Together they are—T. and T.”
|T and T|
|T.S. Turner in one of his suits.|
As the 90’s progressed Mr. T’s career was slowed down to occasional guest appearances and commercials. During this period – here in Wilmington – the movie studio was looking for ways to make money using their facilities between movie productions. They decided to host a mixed martial arts/boxing tournament – with the proceedings also going out as a Pay-Per-View event. One of the soundstages was set up with a ring and seating – and the event was well attended. One of the celebrity judges was Mr. T. My friends were hired to provide any necessary makeup services for the celebrity judges – and spent the evening having a raucous good time with Mr. T – who they said was one of the friendliest, warmest, and funniest people they’d ever worked with. I was pleased to hear that, and wished I could have hung out with them that night.
Around this same time Mr. T was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma – how ironic – and spent the rest of the 90’s battling the disease. Thankfully he was successful, and as the 21st century rolled around a healthier Mr. T continued making appearances – commercials, rap videos, as a guest on WWE Raw.
In 2006 he hosted a reality series called I Pity the Fool – a six episode reality series that saw T traveling from town to town giving advice, solving problems and teaching individuals some rules of life, especially about maintaining team spirit.
In 2008 he jumped in on the celebrity cooking appliance craze – following George Foreman’s Grill – with the Mr. T Flavorwave Oven – it even had a wonderfully silly informercial that aired a lot on late night television.
In 2008 Mr. T was offered a cameo in the Big Screen A-Team movie – but unlike co-stars Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict, T turned the cameo down. Considering the film shunted Benedict and Shultz to an after- the-credits tacked-on extra bit – maybe he was right to do so.
In 2009 Mr. T provided the voice of Earl, the town policeman in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, though he did decline to return for this year’s sequel – turning the role over to Terry Crews. Mr. T’s most recent production is World’s Craziest Fools for British television - with the first season airing in 2011. Mr. T is the presenter for various video clips of people doing stupid stuff (hence “fools” according to T). The series did well in the ratings, and a second series just finished airing in March 2013.
For a former bouncer and bodyguard –Mr. T has proven to be quite adept at re-inventing himself within his own persona, keeping a career in the public eye going strong for more than three decades. I’m a big fan and highly recommend checking out his various shows and movies – they’re good escapist fun.
I hope “U” plan to come back tomorrow for the next post – and until then, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!