Famous Veterans: Mr. T
Before he nearly pounded Rocky Balboa into submission in Rocky III, and went on to fame as B.A. Baracus on the hit TV show A-Team, Mr. T was a member of the biggest team of them all -- the U.S. Army.
In the beginning Mr. T was just plain old Laurence Tureaud, a kid from the projects in Chicago, part of a large family (four sisters and seven brothers) just struggling to get by. His physical abilities were evident from an early age, when he became the city-wide wrestling champion two years in a row at high school. Unfortunately, he also didn't have much motivation for academics, and ended up getting expelled from Prairie View A&M University after one year on a football scholarship.
After leaving school Tureaud enlisted in the United States Army in the mid-70s, and served in the Military Police Corps. In November 1975 he was awarded a letter of recommendation by his drill sergeant, and in a cycle of six thousand troops he was elected "Top Trainee of the Cycle" and promoted to Squad Leader. In July 1976 his platoon sergeant punished him by giving him the detail of chopping down trees during training camp at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, but the sergeant did not specify how many trees that were to be cut down -- so Tureaud single-handedly chopped down over 70 trees in the span of three and a half hours before being relieved of the detail.
After his discharge from the Army, Tureaud tried out for the NFL's Green Bay Packers but failed to make the team because of a knee injury. However, his Army police training served him well in his next job, as a bouncer at Chicago nightclubs, where he began cultivating his ultra-tough "Mr. T" persona (the famous gold chains he wears were a result of picking up discarded jewelry from the nightclub every night). Perhaps the first "celebrity bodyguard," and certainly one of the most famous, Mr. T would charge more than $3,000 a night for his services, protecting stars such as Steve McQueen, Diana Ross, and Muhammad Ali.
When he appeared on a televised bouncer competition, he caught the eye of director and actor Sylvester Stallone, who decided to cast him as the formidable, outrageous boxer Clubber Lang in Rocky III (1982), which turned out to be his launchpad to super-stardom. Fittingly enough, Mr. T's Army roots came back into play when he was cast as Sgt. B.A. Baracus, Army Special Forces vet, in The A-Team (1985). Still as colorful as ever, Mr. T currently lives in L.A., and as you would expect from a tough guy, is healthy even after a 1995 bout with T-cell Lymphoma.