Be Somebody!

Short Biography & Interview with Mr. T

From "The A-Team File #1", a British fanzine from 1983.
No Original Author was given.
Transcribed by Nicole Pellegri in On The Jazz! Volume 1 Issue(s) 16 & 17

Mr. T was born Laurence Tureaud on 21 May 1952 in the rough southside ghetto area of Chicago. He is the second to youngest of twelve children (he has four sisters and seven brothers) and grew up in the housing projects of Chicago. His father left when he was 5, and his 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 in the area, and he has commented, "If you think I'm big, you should see my brothers!" His mother is a 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. "Most of the time," he says, "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 hooky, 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, and stayed out of trouble!) He attended Dunbar Vocational High School.

He was a college football star, studied martial arts, and was three times 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 little 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 became a 'minder', and remained largely in that profession for about nine years. He has bodyguarded such stars as Muhammed Ali, Leon Spinks, Michael Jackson, Steve McQueen, Diana Ross and LeVar Burton. He charged about $3,000 a day (more for 'special' jobs) and his business card reads, 'Next to God, there is no better protector than I'. He boasts that he never lost a client. Of the job he says, "I got hurt worse growing up in the ghetto than working as a bodyguard." He believed in having a very professional attitude toward the job, preventing trouble from even starting rather than having to sort it out once it had. "I was a very dapper dresser," he recalls. "I shaved my head, wore derby hats, white gloves, 3- piece suits, carried a cane. I never went any place without a fresh carnation or a rosebud in my lapel."

When he wasn't working as a bodyguard, 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."

It was whilst reading "National Geographic" that Mr. T first saw the hairstyle for which he is now famous -- on a Mandinka warrior. He felt that adopting the style was a powerful statement about his 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."

Mr. T is 5'11" tall, and weighs somewhere between 216 LB and 237 LB (the former is the lightest report I've encountered, the latter is his fighting weight given in the second bout in "Rocky III.") That gold jewelry IS real, and is worth around $300,000. He is reported to earn around $80,000 a week for his role in the A-Team, though, and gets $15,000 for a personal appearance, so he can afford to support his eccentricity! His earrings are especially made so that they won't damage his ears if they are caught during a fight (they'll just slip free), and he wears seven because of the religious significance of the numbers 3, 4, and 7. It takes him about an hour to put it on, incidentally, and most nights he cleans it in an ultrasonic cleaner... although some nights he sleeps in it "to see how my ancestors, who were slaves, felt." He gives much the same response if asked if it is heavy--nobody ever asked those enslaved ancestors if THEIR chains are heavy! He has a point.

He makes little effort, he claims, to keep his body in shape, and is a confirmed junk food addict-- triple-decker hamburgers have been mentioned! He currently lives alone in a tower block apartment in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. He spends a great deal of time with his family in Chicago, however, and with his 13-year-old daughter Lesa (the result of a teenage love affair) who lives there with her mother. He is very active in community work, and is often to be found in MacLaren Hall, Los Angeles, a shelter for abused children because, he says, "There's no telling how many lives you can turn around." He is very conscious of his responsibility toward the children who admire him and never drinks, smokes or takes drugs of any kind. He refuses to take any acting role that casts him as 'bad', and isn't keen on doing what he refers to as 'mushy scenes.' "My style," he says, "is always a hungry fighter."

In the break between seasons of The A-Team, Mr. T has been making a low-budget comedy movie, "DC Cab," which also stars Gary Busey and Musical Youth. In it, he plays a taxi driver who protects kids from hoods. Also in the works is "Rev T," in which he plays a garbage collector who launches a neighborhood campaign against drugs and crime. NBC is also making a series of cartoons based on 'the adventures of Mr. T.' He has made several guest appearances; one in "Silver Spoons", and in the season opener of "Diff'rent Strokes." In the latter, the A-Team spends the week filming in the Drummond Apartment, and little Arnold has an identity crisis when he learns that his new girlfriend is only using him to meet Mr. T. He attempts to emulate his idol (he looks ridiculous with a Mandinka!) and is told, firmly, "You gotta be your own original." That's probably Mr. T's most valuable statement.

For the future, Mr. T hopes to become a preacher in about five years' time. When asked at a Press conference whether he is as thick as BA Baracus, he observed (quietly, because he usually DOES speak quietly!), "It takes a smart guy to play dumb."

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