Some enjoyed his portrayal of Sergeant Bosco “B.A.” (Bad Attitude) Baracus in the 1980s TV series The A-Team, others loved the way he played James “Clubber” Lang in Sylvester Stallone’s movie Rocky III, but Laurence Tureaud, better known as Mr. T, is perhaps best known for his mohawk hairstyle and his impressive collection of heavy gold chains.
It took years for the beloved television star and 1980s pop-culture icon to create his tough-guy persona and signature look. Born as the youngest boy in a family of 12 children, Mr. T. excelled at athletics while in high school, which won him a football scholarship, but a knee injury stopped him from pursuing a football career.
It was Mr. T’s toughness that would gain him a reputation as one of the most infamous bouncers in Chicago, so much so that he was eventually transformed into a local celebrity. He worked as a bodyguard for celebrities such as Steve McQueen and Diana Ross. Sylvester Stallone first noticed Mr. T.’s acting potential and gave him the role in Rocky III, which elevated the Chicago bouncer to stardom. On this film he came up with his catchphrase “I pity the fool!”
Mr. T.’s love of gold chains, however, began a lot earlier in his life, more precisely in 1977, when he picked up his first chain for $129. Becoming a star meant that he earned more, and his jewelry collection grew quickly over the years, eventually becoming his trademark.
What most people don’t know is that Mr. T.’s gold chains and bracelets are not just a showy aspect of his style but hold significance. Mr. T. has an explanation for every piece of jewelry he wears, and everything serves a purpose.
His explanation for wearing gold is closely connected to the African slaves who were forced to wear iron chains. Mr. T. states in his biography that the chains reminded him of his great African ancestors “who were brought here as slaves with iron chains on their ankles, on their wrists, their necks and sometimes around their waists. I turned my chains into gold, so my statement is this: the fact that I wear gold chains is because I’m still a slave, only my price tag is higher now. I’m still bought and sold by the powers that be in this society, white people, but this time they pay me on demand, millions and millions of dollars for my services.”
A deeper explanation is his religious faith. According to Mr. T., one of the three wise men who came from the east when Jesus was born brought gold, and he’s honoring that.
As mentioned, his hairstyle is an important part of his signature look and as written in an article published by The Harvard Crimson, Mr. T.’s hairstyle was inspired by the Mandinka warriors who are descendants of the great Mali Empire.
The number three is also of great significance for his signature look. Mr. T. told The Harvard Crimson that the three earrings he wore on his right ear symbolize “the father, the son, and the holy ghost, the three wise men, the three Hebrew boys – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed’nego – the three parts of the day, morning, noon, and night, the three days Jesus was in the tomb, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the three graces, Faith, Hope, and Love, the three motions, slow motion, moderate motion and fast motion, water comes in three forms… The inscription written on Jesus’s head when he died was written in three languages, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, it said here lies the king of the Jews, Jesus was on the cross six hours, three hours in the day, three hours at night… The three is also for the Civil Rights workers.”
In his left ear, he wore four earrings, which symbolized the four seasons, the four directions, and the four gospel writers. All told, Mr. T. wore seven earrings, which for him symbolized the seven times that Joshua marched around the town of Jericho, and also that Samson had seven strands or locks of hair. He’s also honoring the seven colors of the rainbow and the biblical story that God rested on the seventh day.
However, everything changed in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Mr. T. witnessed for himself the devastating consequences of this natural disaster. It touched him so deeply that he decided to stop wearing the heavy jewelry out of respect for those suffering.
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On this year’s reality TV competition “Dancing With the Stars,” Mr. T. also talked about the importance of being a role model for kids, and he wore his gold chains, but toned down from his 1980s heyday. He made it to week 4 of the competition. When he and his partner were voted off, he took it with good grace.