Once again, we are discussing someone I’ve barely seen in anything. On the other hand, it is simply not possible to have grown up in the time and place that I did and be unfamiliar with Mr. T as a personality. I was a child in the LA of the ’80s, and I pity the fool who managed to remain unaware of Mr. T in those surroundings. Even though I’ve never really watched The A-Team and indeed he never said the phrase on the show itself. In fact, it’s probably one of the best-known lines written by Sylvester Stallone, as it first appears in Rocky III. Though it is allegedly inspired by the real Mr. T quote “I just feel sorry for the guy I have to box. I feel real sorry for him.”
And I mean, physically, the man was seriously imposing. Still is, for all he’s 67 now—I certainly wouldn’t want to tangle with him. But in his youth, he was a bouncer, a boxer, a bodyguard. He was an MP for a while—does “all cops are bad” include Mr. T? He won a televised competition for “the world’s toughest bouncer” in 1980, for one of his first-ever TV appearances. From there, and from his work as a bodyguard for people like Steve McQueen and Diana Ross—and even for boxers like Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks—he was cast by Stallone as Clubber Lang, despite Stallone’s initial plan to give him only a minor role.
But I mean, when you have someone with Mr. T’s flair, how can you say no? His famous hairstyle was adopted after watching a National Geographic special on the Mandinka warriors; I’d quite like to get him on Finding Your Roots out of idle curiosity as to whether he in fact is likely to be Mandinka, but still. It was his way of connecting with his African heritage. And apparently he no longer wears the amount of gold that he used to, after helping with clean-up from Hurricane Katrina; he felt it was an affront to those who had lost everything.
Even he doesn’t really claim to be an actor, you understand. He’s a personality, and he knows it. He considers himself a fine spokesman, and I suppose he’s not wrong at that. This is probably why I haven’t seen him in much; once he was established in the public eye as Mr. T, what need to act when he could get paid plenty for just standing around, being Mr. T? It’s got to be easier work than what he did before.
What’s more, what he has, more or less, is respect. Perhaps not respect as an actor, but people know who he is, and certainly there are people who admire him. The reason he changed his name—he was born Laurence Tureaud—was that he watched the other people in his life get no respect because of their skin. Everyone calls him mister. You have to. There is nothing else to call him. It’s really quite clever on his part.