Appearing in: Rocky III
Selected by Sylvester Stallone because of his natural presence and abilities, Mr. T portrays Clubber Lang, a streetwise character that became one of Rocky’s fiercest competitors.
“Rocky III is the most exciting assignment I’ve ever had,” Mr. T said during production on the picture, “I have always admired the fine actors and enjoyed films, so this is something of a dream come true.”
Working with such professional performers as the stars of the movie fazed Mr. T a bit, but he soon found the entire film company “friendly and supportive. I came to love making the movie!”
He was born Laurence Tureaud on May 21, 1952 in the rough southside ghetto area of Chicago. The second youngest of twelve children (he has four sisters and seven brothers), the Tureaud family grew up in government housing. Their father left when little Laurence was only 5 and their mother raised the family on $87 a month welfare in a three room apartment. Mr.T’s brothers encouraged him to build up his body in order to survive, and he has commented, “If you think I’m big, you should see my brothers!” His mother is an extremely religious woman, who has had a strong influence on him. He says, “Any man who don’t love his momma can’t be no friend of mine”.
He was an average student in school. He says “Most of the time I stared out the windows, just daydreaming. I didn’t study much because I have a photographic memory.” Apart from one spell between 5th and 7th grades when he went a little astray – playing hookey, cursing, acting tough, being disrespectful – he was a well behaved child (He worried about how his mother would feel if he ended up in jail). He attended Dunbar Vocational High School.
He was a football star, studied martial arts, and was a 3-time city wrestling champion. He won a scholarship to Prairie View A&M University in Texas, but was thrown out after a year. After that he went to a couple of smaller colleges in Chicago, always on an athletic scholarship. When he left college, Mr. T was a military policeman in the US Army. After that, he was invited to try out for the Green Bay Packers, but a knee injury finished his professional football career.
He seemed most proud of his work as a bodyguard, protecting celebrities like Muhammed Ali and Steve McQueen. In 1983 he explained: “I am the best bodyguard, because I’ll take a bullet, I’ll take a stab wound, I’ll take a hit upside the head; I’m like a Kamikaze pilot; The President got shot because his men relaxed.” When not guarding, he filled in by working as a bouncer. One job he had was at Dingbat’s club in Chicago. Club owner Ron Riskman says, “He was always very smartly dressed and he shaved his head completely bald. He’d confront trouble makers and say to them, “‘It’s only fair to warn you that my patience is as long as the hair on my head.’ Most of them would get pretty quiet after that.” He changed his name in 1970 by deed poll to Laurence Tero, and later to Mr. T in order that people would HAVE to address him as “Mr.”
Besides his symbolic name, his host of gold chains and jewelry and his trademark phrase “I pity the fool!”, Mr. T also boasts a most memorable hairstyle. It was whilst reading “National Geographic” that Mr. T first saw the style for which he is now famous – on a Mandinka warrior. He felt that adopting the hairstyle was a powerful statement about his African-American origins.
In 1975 he worked for a while on the Chicago educational scheme as a gym teacher. In 1978 he decided to do something definite about his religious beliefs and was re-baptised in the Cosmopolitan Community Church in Chicago.
In 1982, Mr. T was ‘spotted’ by Sylvester Stallone; he was on the TV show “Games People Play,” taking part in “The World’s Toughest Bouncer” contest – tossing two stuntmen about quite casually. His role in Rocky III was originally intended as just a few lines, but Stallone built up the part around the man. Mr. T also appeared in another boxing film, Penitentiary 2, and in a cable TV special, “Bizarre,” before accepting the role of BA in “The A-Team”. The show proved to be a smash hit and established Mr. T as a pop-culture icon of the 1980′s.
In 1995, Mr. T was diagnosed with cancer (T-Cell Lymphoma) at the age of 43. “I’m not sad,” he said, “And I never said ‘Why me?’ You know, I prayed in my doctor’s office when he told me that the tests came back positive. And I prayed and I said, ‘I thank you God for allowing me to help and reach other people.” Six years later and with the help of intensive therapy, true to his nature, he beat the disease. Shortly after his happy triumph, Mr. T signed on to appear in several popular 1-800-COLLECT television commercials as “Inspecta Collect”.
As he has done for many years, Mr. T currently lends a great deal of his time to shelters for abused children explaining that “There’s no telling how many lives you can turn around.”