Acting is mostly populated by stars and character actors. Stars make every character into themselves, while character actors vanish into their roles.
Consider previous honorees here at You the Man: Whether it’s Batman or Danny Ocean, George Clooney always plays a smooth professional with no time for amateurs. By contrast, try to picture Gary Oldman. You can’t even do it, can you? All you can think of is Commissioner Gordon or Dracula or the main character in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, George Tinker Tailor Soldier (nobody knew he was secretly a spy).
But precisely once in our lifetime, we’ve enjoyed an actor whose character is himself and whose self is his character. That man would be Laurence Tero Tureaud, a.k.a. Mr. T. And it’s no act; Mr. T is a living superhero.
Mr. T was born in the squalor of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Housing Projects — a flimsy construct steeped in pollution and poverty. With the love of a good mom and a minister father, he arose to his destiny as America’s greatest treasure. He earned a football scholarship to college, but was expelled for…uh…it doesn’t say here, so we’re going to assume he foiled an alien invasion that had infiltrated the faculty.
Joining the Army, he became a military policeman, a job you will be surprised to learn he did not perform all by himself. It turns out not even Mr. T can control more than one branch of the Armed Forces at a time. He was named Top Trainee out of 6,000 troops, although “of all time” would have been fair too. At one point, he had to chop down trees as punishment (again: alien invasion), and he mowed through one every three minutes for three-and-a-half hours.
After the Army, he tried out for the Green Bay Packers, but failed to make the team due to a knee injury caused by taking on the entire NFC offense at once. At least–that’s what we assume, because it’s ridiculous to think anything less can hurt Mr. T unless his love is betrayed.
He became a bouncer, wearing people’s gold chains after evicting them from the club. This way, bounced patrons could simply plead for their jewelry back rather than insist they left it inside. This story is the murkiest part of the T legend, because either he worked at a club where everyone wore a gold chain–and yes, okay, it was the ’70s–but then dozens of people then took those chains off inside the nightclub. Did the dangling chain muss the lines of blow when they leaned over the table or something? Because if they were ripped off in the struggle, that implies the frightening truth that Mr. T was able to repair and wear the chains using nothing but a fierce stare. (Gold is a soft metal, and would be destroyed if he fixed the chain with his bare hands.)
Becoming a bodyguard, T would keep you safe for $3,000 to $10,000 a day. And that’s ’80s dollars, baby, when a gallon of gas only cost a buck and a smile. Here’s where the story of Mr. T becomes something straight out of Raymond Chandler. People hired him to track runaways, find missing persons, and even offered him assassination jobs, apparently not understanding what this whole Mr. T thing was about. Somebody once anonymously sent him $5k as an unbidden deposit to smoke a friend of theirs, with another $70,000 upon completion. T warned the man instead, but he was already dead in a car crash. Mr. T is on the very short list of people whose lives are more dramatic than the fugitive mercenaries they played, because at least nobody ever died on The A-Team.
Also, note that back then, the price of a human life was actually respectable. These days, two grand and a Craigslist hitman who always turns out to be an FBI agent are all you get. Gone are the days of the gentleman assassin, carrying a saber in his umbrella handle, and a felted briefcase brimming with poisonous vials.
Around this time, he entered a couple of tough-guy competitions, and not one of his competitors dropped out in fear, proving they weren’t so much tough as too stupid to be scared. Both events had generic names that in no way described the competition of hurling stuntmen through doors and boxing a man into a pulp, but they cinched T’s legacy as the best non-Swayze bouncer on Earth. Winning toughest bouncer got him spotted for a Rocky sequel by Sylvester Stallone, where his character Clubber Lang’s quotes were drawn from T’s actual pre-fight statements in the competition.
And after that, he was in our consciousness for good. But just because you know the story of T doesn’t mean you’ve learned everything he has to teach us. Here are five reasons Mr. T is the man.
He WAS the ’80s
You could not turn your head in 1980s pop culture without seeing Mr. T. He WAS America. Pro wrestling? Mr. T. Rocky movies? Mr. T. Saturday morning cartoons? Mr. T and a bunch of annoying gymnast kids in silk jackets. The best reason to watch The A-Team? Mr. “B.A. Baracus” T. He played himself on Silver Spoons, which is pretty much the center of everything that sitcoms were in the 1980s. Action figures, pinball games, breakfast cereal, comic books…he even had a coin bank of his own mohawked head.
He Teaches Kids Good Lessons
Say no to drugs. Stay in school. Treat other people with respect. Be somebody, or be somebody’s fool. That’s what Mr. T went out of his way to teach us. Really, between Mr. Rogers and Mr. T we got a full education in being good citizens and doing what’s right, whether it’s with an open palm or a closed fist.
That’s not just talk, either. He’s given freely of his time, interest, and earnings to homeless shelters, the church, hospitals, and anyone who needs a little inspiration. “I tell them where I grew up—on the South Side of Chicago. I tell them how I was born and raised in the ghetto, but the ghetto wasn’t born and raised in me,” he once said. “About how I loved and respected my mother, how my mother used to teach us to bless our food, and reminded us to be thankful for what we had. She said if you can appreciate what little you have, God will give you more. And that’s what I think happened when I look back on my life. ”
He Loves His Mom
Did you treat your mother right on Mother’s Day? How about every day after? You’d better, or Mr. T will be so very disappointed in you, son. Here he is instructing you in proper snapology in his seminal work, Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool, with “Treat Your Mother Right (Treat Her Right).”
Did you get that? You can make fun of someone’s weight in an argument, but don’t ever go after a mother. That woman carried a kid for nine months, and spent years trying to make them less of a creep. You have to respect that. And before you say one word against this song, you should know that the lyrics were written by Mr. Ice-T (no relation). Anyone who doesn’t respect mothers is truly a fool to be pitied.
He’s Able to Laugh at Himself
A lot of wannabe tough guys can’t let themselves take on silly roles, because they’re afraid to be laughed at, but Mr. T carries his strength within, so he has no problem playing a pervy wise janitor in Not Another Teen Movie or the Bearded Lady in Freaked.
Here he is in Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool again, learning to play the cello.
It’s His Sixtieth Birthday
It’s been a long, interesting life for Mr. T and he’s done a lot to entertain and educate use. He’s protected ministers and prostitutes, doesn’t judge anyone, and loves all, truly living up to his Christian faith. He’s endured poverty, crime, bodily attacks, cancer, an up-and-down career, and he’s always been a man of character, true unto himself and his beliefs. And we, as a society, are lucky to have benefited from six decades of Mr. T.
For a hero of a much more self-destructive nature, check out Brendan’s Five Facts about Unkillable Irish Rock Star Shane MacGowan. –>