Mr T.

There’s a reason Mr. T wore gold chains around his neck and a heartbreaking reason he stopped

Mr. T is an American actor and professional wrestler famous for his distinct tough-guy persona, layers of gold jewelry, and hairstyle inspired by West African Mandinka warriors. He is well-known for his role as Clubber Lang in Rocky III, where he said the line that has become his catchphrase: “I pity the fool.” The icon was born Laurence Tureaud, but he legally changed his name to Mr. T in 1970. He saw that white people tended to refer to his father, uncle, and older brother as ‘boy’ so he changed his name so people would respectfully call him ‘mister’ instead. However, in 2005, Mr. T stopped wearing his trademark gold chains. His reason was Hurricane Katrina.

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Why Mr. T Stopped Wearing His Gold Chains

In the mid-1970s, Mr. T worked as a bouncer. His previous experience as a military policeman helped cultivate his tough reputation. Being a bouncer connected Mr. T with celebrities, and he became a bodyguard. For a decade, he guarded many celebrities like Michael Jackson, LeVar Burton, Joe Frazier, Diana Ross, and Muhammad Ali.

This led to his chance meeting with actor Sylvester Stallone in 1980, who cast him in Rocky III, the film that launched Mr. T’s career. But as he worked as a doorman, he started a collection of gold chains left behind by customers. He said he would return the jewelry to anyone who claimed them. Meanwhile, his persona became linked to the chains. At the peak of his fame, he allegedly wore over $300,000 of gold chains. [1]

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However, he stopped wearing real gold in 2005 after the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “As a Christian I said I would never wear my own gold again because of what happened with Hurricane Katrina. It would be a sin against God for me to wear my gold [when so many] people lost everything. Sure, it’s my trademark, I am the same person whether I’m wearing the gold or not. My moral values are the same. The gold don’t make me, I make the gold.” [2]

Despite his gruff persona, Mr. T became an advocate and role model for his young fans, knowing that many people looked up to him. In 1984, he released a rap album called Mr. T’s Commandments, a motivational video, and a film soundtrack called “Be Somebody… or Be Sombody’s Fool” filled with encouraging messages for children to make good choices and be good people. 

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Even though people associate Mr. T with his gold, he grew up impoverished and the second youngest of 12 children. They lived together in a three-roomed apartment in Chicago, raised by a single mother since his father left when Mr. T was five. Crime was rampant in their neighborhood, and his brothers encouraged him to start bodybuilding to protect himself. In school, he excelled in martial arts, wrestling, and football. He even became a city wrestling champion thrice in high school and earned a football scholarship to Prairie View A&M University. [3]

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His Cancer Diagnosis

In the early 1990s, Mr. T began to lose popularity because his health prevented him from working as much. He was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer, in 1995. He had found a small lump on his ear while removing a diamond earring. Later, he joked to Coping with Cancer magazine about getting “cancer with my name on it. Personalized cancer.” 

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At first the cancer was localized to his ear, so after weeks of radiation treatment, he thought the ordeal was over. But eleven months later, the cancer returned and Mr. T suffered through a cycle of chemotherapy and other treatments for years. Despite all of the hardships, he stayed strong and encouraged other cancer fighters. “I pity the fool who just gives up,”  he said. “We all gonna die eventually from something or other, but don’t be a wimp. Put up a good fight. Don’t sit around waiting on death. We can be tough. We can be determined. Go out and have some fun and make death find you! We can be living with cancer, not dying from it. We can be cancer survivors.” [4]

In 1999, he began appearing in more films and officially went into remission. His most well-known recent film role was the tough but endearing Officer Earl Devereaux in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in 2009. He also appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2017.

Keep Reading: How Jim Carrey Responded After Being Told He Only Had 10 Minutes to Live

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Sources

  1. “Mr. T.” Biography. April 27, 2017.
  2. “Mr. T gives his gruff-but-sweet persona another go with role in ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’.Daily News. Ethan Sacks. September 27, 2009.
  3. “Mr. T: Biography.IMDB.
  4. “Happy 70th Birthday, Mr. T! The ‘A-Team’ Star And Divorced Dad Of 3 Is Thriving After Beating Cancer.Survivor Net. Marisa Sullivan. May 24, 2022
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