WWE Hall of Fame, Class of 2014 Profile: (Celebrity Wing) – Mr. T
Jay Shannon returns to profile a key player in both Wrestlemania I and II.
Ok, I’ve never been a big fan of the Celebrity Wing of the Hall of Fame. Most of those included in that area of the Hall have had minimal or no direct involvement in the Hall of Fame. This year, the WWE got it right. Mr.T helped push the then-WWF to new levels by legitimizing it in the “Main Stream Media”. Mr. T was in the main event of the original Wrestlemania and involved in a major match in the 2nd one. He may not have been the best in-ring performer but he drew (brought in fans). His contributions to the WWF helped mold it into the juggernaut that it now is. I am proud to discuss this actor, boxer, toughman and, yes, professional wrestler…
Some Early Background:
The man now known as “Mr. T” was born Laurence Tureaud, in 1952. He grew up in Chicago, the youngest of 12 children. His father was a preacher. Laurence lived a traumatic childhood in the Chicago slums. To escape the horrors of crime all around him, Laurence threw himself into his studies and into sports. While in high school, Laurence focused on martial arts, wrestling and football. He became an all-city wrestling champion, two years in a row. He would eventually earn a football scholarship but got expelled from college during his 2nd year at school.
After college, Laurence enlisted in the US Army, where he excelled. He was voted as the Top Trainee over 6,000 other recruits. Laurence received several honors while in the military. He was honorably discharged and returned to sports. He tried out for the Green Bay Packers but an old knee injury prevented him for being accepted.
The Evolution of “Mr. T”
Laurence began working in Chicago as a bouncer. It was there that he began to create his “T” persona. One reason he switched to “T” was so many people had difficulty pronouncing his given surname. In addition, the name gave him a mystique and made him seem more intimidating. His significant gold chains and jewelry came in the most unusual way. The chains and such were things that had either been left behind or confiscated by T from bar fights or as payment for charges at the bar. The chains were almost a sign to the patrons that T would always be in control of them. The gold was also a symbol of where he can reached in his life, considering the deplorable neighborhood he grew up in.
To earn extra money (and prestige) Mr. T began competing in the growing “Toughman” industry. That exposure led T to a profitable career as a Bodyguard.
Becoming an Icon:
Mr. T finalized his iconic look after seeing a Mandingo Warrior picture in a National Geographic magazine. He decided to shave his head in a similar fashion. His gold chains then took a totally new meaning as T began to wear them, even to sleep, to feel the bindings that his ancestors felt as slaves. In 1980, Sylvester Stallone noticed Mr. T working on the television show “Games People Play” on a segment about the toughest bouncers in America. Stallone eventually approached Mr. T about appearing in his upcoming “Rocky III” film. Mr. T was originally set to have simply a background or “extras” part but Stallone felt Mr. T had the right look to play the main antagonist in the film. The “Clubber Lang” character became an instant hit and elevated Mr. T to levels he could not have dreamed. That role led to several other film roles, mostly in B-Level pictures. One of the other people in the “Rocky III” film would help bring Mr. T over to the world of professional wrestling.
In late 1984, the WWF began to put together the first Wrestlemania card. Vince McMahon wanted celebrities to become involved with the event. Hulk Hogan brought up the name of Mr. T. By then, Mr. T was in his 2nd season on the “A-Team” and had done quite a bit of film work. Vince agreed that Mr. T would be a “good fit” for the main event. Hulk Hogan, in his autobiography, stated that Mr. T “saved” the main event. Mr. T helped to expand the popularity of wrestling into the Main Stream Media to a new level. Mr. T and Hulk Hogan (seconded by Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka”) defeated “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff (w/”Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr.).
Due to the huge reaction to Mr. T’s involvement with the first Wrestlemania, he was invited back for Wrestlemania 2. Mr. T continued to battle Roddy Piper in a Boxing Match. Sadly, the match was not a great battle. Mr. T pulled his punches a little too much and Piper has complained about it on “Legends of Wrestling” (currently on the WWE Network). Despite a lackluster outing, the match still got a great reaction for both Piper and Mr. T.
After those appearances, Mr. T made occasional in-ring showings (mostly as a special guest ref). He was in the corner of Kerry Von Erich (in 1989) in the World Class/UWSA area. In the mid-90s, Mr. T made a few appearances in WCW (again, as a special guest ref).
Mr. T has continued to work in television and film for the past 2+ decades. Mr. T also embraced Christianity and has toured the world spreading his message of peace, love and faith. He eventually reduced his use of the gold chains after dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. T has been an Icon for more than 30 years. He’s been a huge star of film and television. He was also the celebrity backbone of the WWF/WWE. All those who came after him have been compared to Wrestling’s Celebrity Measuring Stick…the legendary Mr. T. Welcome to the Hall of Fame. This is an honor most deserved.