“I live by the Golden Rule – the man with the gold rules.”
Mr. T. My lifelong hero. A man who has and thrown more “suckers” around than an octopus in a washing machine, and taught aviophobes everywhere that “I aint gettin’ on no plane” is a phrase that can be dished out with attitude.
But what do we actually know about this 80s legend besides the gold chains, Mohawk and fool-based catchphrases?
I suppose we could just trawl through the big man’s Wikipedia profile. It’s surprisingly extensive. But when we’re talking about a lyrical genius responsible for phrases like “I was on him like ugly on an ape” and “the entire place got quiet, so quiet you could hear a mosquito urinate on cotton”, it’s best to go straight to the source.
What follows are some of the highlights from Mr. T’s 1984 autobiography, The Man With The Gold. A 274-page tour de force promising “the unadulterated truth, told, written, and spoken in such terms that even a fool could understand”, which we are assured was penned without the aid of a ghost writer.
And that is probably one of his least remarkable claims, given that he goes on to declare himself a messenger of God and confesses to being a murderer. Admittedly, it‘s sometimes difficult to believe he hasn’t made a few embellishments for the sake of a good story – in fact, there are whole paragraphs that sound like they’ve been lifted from a long-forgotten episode of The A-Team. But such is the strength of Mr. T’s indomitable self-belief and earnestness, you come away from the book hoping that every detail is 100% true.
Has he taken us all for fools? You’ll have to decide for yourselves.
1. Are you a tree? Stay away from Mr. T
When environmental campaigners warn us about how much of the rainforest is being lost each year, they always opt for the usual ‘area the size of Wales/Belgium’ comparison. What they should be using to really shock us into action is ‘number of trees cut down by Mr. T in a day’. If it’s got bark and isn’t a dog, this man will bring that big woody sucker down with extreme prejudice.
His first taste of sap came when he was training for the National Guard Military Police in Wisconsin. As a punishment, Mr. T’s platoon sergeant ordered him to chop down trees in the sweltering heat until he was told to stop – something which didn’t occur for the next five hours. By the time our axe-swinging chum finished, and to the shock of his sergeant, he had cut down “about 75 trees, no little trees either”.
An isolated incident? Not even remotely. Long-time residents of a genteel Chicago suburb still remember the Lake Forest Chain Saw Massacre of 1987. This saw the now hugely rich and successful Mr. T moving into a mansion with a seven-acre estate on the shore of Lake Michigan that was home to several hundred centuries-old oak trees. This proved too tantalising for the new lord of the manor, who promptly sparked up the Stihl and personally felled the lot of them.
According to The New York Times, neighbours were ‘especially piqued that Mr. T appears to be relishing the tree removal. ”He’s smiling and laughing about all this,” said one neighbour. ”He thinks it’s a joke.”’
2. For a doorman, Mr. T sure didn’t like doors
Do you remember that famous bit in the opening titles of The A-Team where B.A. Baracus comes smashing through a wooden door? Must be a fake balsa wood stunt door? Not necessarily considering his previous form.
Back in his military days, one of Mr. T’s buddies made a hundred dollar wager: “Big T… you might be big, strong and crazy, but you can’t go through that door.” At this point, Mr. T notes that it was actually two doors – not that this mattered. The inevitable happened, within seconds “wood was flying everywhere” and Big T won his money, although he admits to the reader “I would have run through that door for free, just to be destructive”.
As with the tree incident, this youthful taste of destruction was revisited a hundredfold when Mr. T was a few years older. Having earned a legendary reputation working as the doorman at Dingbats Disco in Chicago – where he had “over two hundred fights” – he was approached by NBC to take part in a TV show called America’s Toughest Bouncer. Much like The Great British Bake Off, this was a competition that pitted people from all over the country against each other in a series of challenges related to their chosen field. Unlike Bake Off, however, one of these challenges involved throwing a 115-pound stunt man as far as they could (although it’s fun to picture this happening to Mary Berry).
The toughest event in the show was called The Blast, where “each bouncer would jump from behind a bar, run around a group of tables filled with people, jump over a rail and then run through a four-inch wooden door, after which he must ring a bell to stop the clock”.
Now how do you think Mr. T trained for this? Protein shake and a cardio workout before hitting the weights? How about a Rocky-style montage of meat-punching, tyre-dragging and running up some steps? Neither comes close. What Mr. T actually decided to do was return to the ghetto, find a bunch of old condemned buildings and physically reduce them to rubble by smashing through the doors and walls, as he explains:
“I heard the neighbours telling the police that some crazy man comes in here every afternoon and finds a different building, then once inside starts running through doors and the walls […] I trained like that for two weeks, one week on the South Side and one week on the West Side, tearing down buildings.”
Needless to say, the regime worked and Mr. T resoundingly won America’s Toughest Bouncer (twice), making such an impression on one viewer – Sly Stallone – that he was offered the role of Clubber Lang in Rocky III.
3. Things to bear in mind before asking Mr. T out for dinner
He’s a big man with a big appetite, so probably best to split the bill. He describes his usual restaurant order as: “Six eggs, two steaks, three glasses of orange juice, eight pieces of toast, two salads, two pieces of apple pie with ice cream, and a strawberry shake”.
Anyone hoping for an after dinner snog should also be aware that in his college football days, Mr. T and his teammates would eat “raw onions so our breath would stink and that made us mean”.
4. Despite his boastful nature, Mr. T knows when to put a lid on expectations
How else to explain this passage in the book where he describes a close call with a red-hot poker?
“I was badly burned on my groin area right near my penis. I guess I escaped permanent damage to my penis because of its size; if it had been any bigger, my sexual life would have been ruined.”
5. Step aside Costner, Mr. T was the bodyguard
During the 1970s, Mr. T earned his living as “one of the most famous and highest-paid bodyguards in the business”, who never lost a single client from a huge roster that included (deep breath):
“Eight bankers, nineteen actors and actresses, seventeen male and female entertainers, eight airline stewardesses, forty-two millionaires, five preachers, three politicians, four store owners, eight housewives, fourteen secretaries, seven clothes designers, six athletes, seven judges, four attorneys, five models, ten schoolteachers (male and female), sixteen prostitutes, four stockbrokers, nine welfare recipients, ten executives, and eighteen children.”
And this is only a partial list, although it’s not clear whether some cheeky double counting has taken place there as, for example, Steve McQueen (one famous client) was both an actor and a millionaire.
Nevertheless, Mr. T’s sense of pride in his bodyguard career shines through and a sizeable chunk of ‘The Man with the Gold’ details his job protecting troubled heavyweight boxer Leon Spinks. If you are not a boxing fan, it’s important to bear in mind that Spinks was crowned world champion after beating Muhammad Ali. This means that Mr. T was deemed tough enough to provide protection for a man who was physically capable of beating up the greatest boxer in history. Mr. T wins at real-life tough guy Top Trumps!
As he tells us himself: “When I’m ready to fight, my opponent has a better chance of surviving a forest fire wearing gasoline drawers.” Which neatly moves us onto the next point…
6. When he’s ready to fight, Mr. T’s opponents have a better chance of surviving a forest fire wearing gasoline drawers
Yes I know I’ve just quoted it twice, but it’s such an amazing line it deserves repetition. That’s what you’re missing when you read Wikipedia. Anyway, there’s a lot of fighting throughout the book, including some brutal encounters during a youth spent in the projects and one occasion when he somehow managed to “accidentally” beat up a policeman.
The greatest punch-up, however, comes during the Leon Spinks bodyguard years. A boxing match in Chicago turns sour after the local favourite Mostradini loses to Spinks, who immediately finds himself in the middle of an angry crowd with only his trainer and Mr. T to help. What ensues over the course of the next four pages sounds like the greatest A-Team fight sequence never filmed. Highlights include:
“So I rushed over there and took a big swan dive into the crowd, landing on about ten guys who didn’t know what hit them. As I got up, I was punching everybody.”
“Some of them I hit on the back of the neck with karate blows, disabling them.”
“When I ran into the crowd, I managed to pull away with one more victim to see if he could survive ‘Terrible T’s Torture Test’ – being thrown to the ground from over my head, then hit with two or three smashing forearm blows to the head, then kneed in the chest a couple of times, and for the grand finale I would ram his head into the wooden steps of the ring and toss him back to his buddies.”
Extraordinary to think that he had to tone things down a bit to play B.A. Baracus isn’t it?
7. Mr. T has killed people
This one came as quite a shock and probably shouldn’t be included in an article with such a celebratory tone, but Mr. T openly admits to killing people in the book so it would be weird not to mention it. Growing up in the projects, the young Lawrence Tureaud encountered violent crime on a daily basis and quickly learned that he had to be tough to survive, developing a reputation alongside his seven brothers for being someone not to be messed with.
He owned an arsenal of weapons that he was not afraid to use, preferring to leave the house carrying “a .357 Magnum strapped to my side, just like a gunslinger of the Old West, a belt of bullets and shotgun shells around my neck and under my arm, my 30-30 Winchester rifle with an infrared scope on it and my sawed-off twelve-gauge shotgun in my hands.”
Unfortunately, there were two criminals who didn’t take the hint, made the mistake of robbing Mr. T’s dear old mum and swiftly faced the consequences:
“I would like to add that up until that point I had never killed anyone before. I will not say what I did to those n*****s who robbed and threatened to kill my mother, but I will say this: No one will ever see them again and I don’t have no hurt in my heart anymore. I am at peace once again because I did what had to be done. And I pity the fool who don’t protect his mother.”
If you’re thinking that he doesn’t quite admit to killing anyone in that passage, I should probably point out that later on in the book he just outright says: “I have killed, but I don’t kill for money.” It isn’t clear why he has never had his collar felt by the police despite these admissions.
Maybe it’s something to do with the statute of limitations. Or it could just be that they haven’t read the book.
8. Mr. T dolls outsold Cabbage Patch dolls by ten million
This was by far the second biggest shock.
9. Mr. T has a lot in common with Jesus Christ
While it may be hard for most of us to imagine Jesus wielding firearms, slugging it out with angry mobs or carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars of gold around his neck, Mr. T clearly sees a lot of parallels between himself and big J.C. It only takes until page 5 for this bombshell:
“Very few of you see the Godly qualities in me because even though we know the truth we still lie. That’s why it’s so important that I come at a time like this […] I have been chosen by God Almighty to be one of his messengers.”
There’s one big difference though: no one would dare try to crucify Mr. T, the toughest guy in the world.
And even if they did, he’d smash that cross to bits in no time at all.