Where have you gone Mr. T? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
June 29, 2020 5:21 AM   Subscribe

The origin story of Mr. T's name is the best. "I think about my father being called ‘boy’, my uncle being called ‘boy’, my brother, coming back from Vietnam and being called ‘boy’. So I questioned myself: “What does a black man have to do before he’s given the respect as a man?” So when I was 18 years old, when I was old enough to fight and die for my country, old enough to drink, old enough to vote, I said I was old enough to be called a man. I self-ordained myself Mr. T so the first word out of everybody’s mouth is ‘Mr.’ That’s a sign of respect that my father didn’t get, that my brother didn’t get, that my mother didn’t get."
posted by thirdring (42 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
I recall seeing something on American network TV in maybe 1980 or 1981 that sounds, in retrospect, suspiciously like a 2010’s reality show: it was a competition of bodyguards where they were put through a series of challenges (a survey of IMDb suggests it may have been an episode of the 1980 series Games People Play). I recall nothing else about the show save that one of the bodyguards was a very distinctive-looking Black man (with the hairstyle and the gold chains) named Lawrence Tureaud. Two or three years later, I spotted the same guy in the trailers for Rocky III and thought, “Hey, it’s that bodyguard!”

I never thought the knowledge would be of any use, but some 25 years later I was sitting in a marketing meeting and the rhapsodic presenter was talking about the power of rebranding. His exact words were, “Everyone in this room recognizes Mr. T., but no one here knows his real name!” I raised my hand.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:52 AM on June 29 [91 favorites]

Well, now I want to know what's up with Mr. T these days. Hope he's OK.
posted by SoberHighland at 5:54 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Ah, darn it... from Wikipedia: "The first (and only) game, "Mr. T: The Videogame", was to have Mr. T battle Nazis in various locations and guest star Wil Wright. It was planned to be available on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PC platforms, however the game was cancelled for undisclosed reasons."

Mr. T battling Nazis would have been a cool game. Maybe.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:00 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]

"He stopped wearing virtually all his gold, one of his identifying marks, after helping with the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said, "As a Christian, when I saw other people lose their lives and lose their land and property ... I felt that it would be a sin before God for me to continue wearing my gold. I felt it would be insensitive and disrespectful to the people who lost everything, so I stopped wearing my gold."
posted by Damienmce at 6:01 AM on June 29 [97 favorites]

I'd like to think that if I unexpectedly happened upon Mr. T, I'd be filled with childlike glee. That was the case when I ended up in the same room as Sgt. Slaughter, though he turned out to be kind of weird. Mr. T, by all accounts, is pretty awesome.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:20 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

The world could use some Mr. T right now.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:34 AM on June 29 [16 favorites]

the rhapsodic presenter was talking about the power of rebranding.

I salute you for giving a well-deserved deflation to one of the rebranding warriors.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:44 AM on June 29 [32 favorites]

I do what I can.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:05 AM on June 29 [10 favorites]

Great origin story; thanks for this.
posted by sonofobituary at 7:05 AM on June 29

About a decade ago, I discovered that Mr. T ('First name- Mister, middle name - period') is a day older than me. I have a neighbor who's a day younger than me. The week we turned 60, we had lunch together and I made Mr. T buttons for us to wear.
posted by MtDewd at 7:10 AM on June 29 [33 favorites]

Oh my, bondcliff... the backup singers! That was the sweetest video ever.
posted by heyho at 7:12 AM on June 29

That reminds me of Big Bill Broonzy singing "When will I get to be called a man? Do I gotta wait till I get 93?" "Black man's a boy no matter what he can do."

Good for Mr. T!
posted by irisclara at 7:37 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Something went really weird with the link Damienmce posted, so here it is again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]

thirdring, I never knew this and I'm grateful to find out. Thank you for posting it.
posted by brainwane at 8:14 AM on June 29

All I know is that I pity the fool who don't eat his cereal.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:23 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Mr T, 67
posted by fairmettle at 8:58 AM on June 29

The first (and only) game, "Mr. T: The Videogame"…

Well there's always this.
posted by mazola at 9:13 AM on June 29

I thought I'd imagined that bodyguard competition as well! I mostly remember Mr T bashing through a door like it was cardboard.

His cartoon full of crime-fighting gymnasts was the bomb to a young fifteen schnitzengruben, I wonder if it holds up now. (It probably does not hold up.)

But as long as there are fools that need pity, Mr T will be there.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:18 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

Wikipedia backs up my memory of it being a bar bouncer contest: "In 1980, Mr. T was spotted by Sylvester Stallone while taking part in NBC's "America's Toughest Bouncer" competition, a segment of NBC's Games People Play." Seeing Mr. T. in Rocky III naturally caused a "hey, it's that guy!" reaction.
posted by Ranucci at 9:31 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

My husband told me a story of when he was young (around nine or ten) and on a family trip to Los Angeles.

His dad was driving down one of LAs many highways when he looked out the window and saw Mr. T behind the wheel of a cream-colored Mercedes convertible. Naturally, he got excited and yelled at his dad to follow.

His dad, being awesome, immediately tried taking the family on a celebrity watch, but this involved bringing the car to an excessive speed, which went unnoticed until a police officer (not from CHIPs, sadly) pulled them all over.

Said officer walks up, asks what the rush is, and dad says his kid saw Mr. T driving through LA and wanted to wave hello. Officer pauses, then asks what kind of car. Dad describes the Benz. "On your way. Please drive safely." No ticket.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:33 AM on June 29 [37 favorites]

I really appreciate that this thread is all about good Mr. T feelings: remembering his concern for kids learning self-respect and morality; black pride; being your best self.

I will not be able to take it if 2020 hears us having this nice moment and sends someone in here to tell us Mr. T is secretly awful in some way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:01 AM on June 29 [16 favorites]

If you want to hear Mr. T explain his name, here's an appearance on Letterman.
posted by graymouser at 10:07 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

(It's worth watching more of Mr. T on Letterman when he talks about his jewelry and hairstyle.)
posted by graymouser at 10:11 AM on June 29

Treat Your Mother Right

Aaaaaaaaaamazing. 4 thumbs up.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:36 AM on June 29

The first (and only) game, "Mr. T: The Videogame"

"an interactive Fool Pitying simulation"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:01 AM on June 29 [10 favorites]

I just wanted to say that following Mr T on Twitter during the winter Olympics was delightful.
posted by mazola at 11:14 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Treat Your Mother Right.

The entire hour-long motivational video, Mr. T's Be Somebody... or Be Somebody's Fool! is incredible start to finish.

Is the best part where he models for kids dealing with Frustration? -- in his case trying to learn to play the cello but the bow flies out of his hand so he ties it to his hand with a bandana and then the upstairs neighbor hates the sound and stomps so hard the ceiling tiles fall on his head which he solves by attaching an umbrella to his cello?

Is the best part the fashion show where he asks "Does Calvin Klein wear clothes with your name on them?" NO! So get rid of that label and wear your own style!

"Here's Marta, our subway sweetheart. Taking the A-Train to fashion. With her mustard socks and her ketchup sash. She is a real hot dog."

"Jeff! Who's the hippest cat in town. Ain't no doubt when Jeff's around. With pants pegged tight and hair and fitness, he's the eighties nod to fitness splendor. Stay cool, Jeff!"

"Athena! With her English bowler hat and Japanese kimono, Athena combines the very best of East and West with more than a dash of American-style know-how. Whether she's fixing her bike or prepping for the prom, she is a living United Nations! But there's no need to vote on this outfit!"

Is the best part when "Dr. T" explains that if you do something embarrassing like trip and fall you can "recoup it" by pretending to breakdance? Or if you forget to wear pants, rip off your doctor smock and pretend you were just gonna work out anyway!

Is the best part where he shows kids you don't need a fancy gym to work out, you can get exercise by balancing a bag of popcorn on your head?

Uh, it's still probably Treat Your Mother Right.
posted by straight at 11:55 AM on June 29 [17 favorites]

Mr. T is the best, he's always been the best, he's never been retro, he's never been a guilty pleasure or ironic character, he's just always...been. I know he's all about God but it doesn't matter because he doesn't get all evangelical about it. I remember the story of his name from the A-Team days, or maybe Rocky III. Back in those days it would still have been something that could appear in a TV Guide profile or Time magazine.
posted by rhizome at 2:26 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]

Here's Mr. T Urging the people of Chicago to wear face masks a month ago.
posted by mmoncur at 3:40 PM on June 29 [10 favorites]

I recall seeing something on American network TV in maybe 1980 or 1981 that sounds, in retrospect, suspiciously like a 2010’s reality show: it was a competition of bodyguards...

I was there too! I did not catch his "real" name. What I remember was, as they all came out to introduce themselves, there was one of those ceiling mount punching bags. When the other guys came out they WHAMMED that thing, and shouted "I'm Blah Blahberson!" or whatever. Don't remember any of them.

Then this mohawk wearing huge guy comes out, crazy huge sideburns and a vest, lightly taps the thing (as per contractual requirements, I guess), and calmly says to camera, "I'm Mr. T." He was like Shaft crossed with the Incredible Hulk.

Me and my brother burst out laughing. The audacity of this incredible being we had just witnessed. I am glad to have been there at the beginning.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:06 PM on June 29 [9 favorites]

Here is roughly 0.4 seconds of young Mr. T in a promo for Games People Play (at around 0:21).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:38 PM on June 29

I didn't watch very much television in the 1980s (busy with things) but by chance I did catch one episode of 'The A Team', the one where Boy George was a guest artist. I got the impression that Mr. T & BG were in on a joke that no one else got. They were relaxed & casual, and all the other actors just stood around them and read scripts.

(Unverified anecdote: 'The A Team' second unit (stunt filming) had a reputation for damaging the most cameras & film equipment in Hollywood at the time.)
posted by ovvl at 5:27 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]

mmoncur & DirtyOldTown, thanks for the link to Mr. T's mask PSA at his Twitter account (also at WBBM Newsradio's site); reading his bio there made me happy:

"Footballer, Wrestler, Soldier, Bouncer, Bodyguard & actor. Professional Pitier Of Fools."
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:09 PM on June 29 [5 favorites]

When Trump got in I used to play a mental game where I'd think about other goofy celebs from the 1980s and consider whether their getting elected president would be more or less shocking and ridiculous than Trump. Like, President Hulk Hogan? Perhaps more shocking and ridiculous. President Emmanuel Lewis? Perhaps less shocking and ridiculous.

While the idea of President Mr. T was approximately as shocking and ridiculous as President Trump, I think we would all be far, far better off with President Mr. T.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:36 PM on June 29 [14 favorites]

Here is roughly 0.4 seconds of young Mr. T yt in a promo for Games People Play (at around 0:21).

OMG I remember that guy diving into the pool while catching on fire! I don't remember the show so much, but that, and the cars crashing mid-jump and maybe a couple others are lodged way back in the cobwebs of my mind. This post just gets better and better!
posted by rhizome at 7:01 PM on June 29

Mister President T, surely you mean.
posted by notoriety public at 8:50 AM on June 30 [4 favorites]

I don’t think I realized before now what a force for good Mr. T has always been.
posted by hototogisu at 3:19 PM on June 30 [6 favorites]

I would have liked to see Mr. T meet Mr. Rogers.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:43 PM on June 30 [5 favorites]

From what I can see, even if they did you'd never be able to find it, due to 8,000,000 links to the Epic Rap Battles of History episode with them.
posted by rhizome at 8:19 PM on June 30

My father once told me that Mr. T’s first name was Lipton.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:09 AM on July 1 [5 favorites]

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