Ever since actor Mr. T went mainstream, he wore an overwhelming number of necklaces and chains that left him quite literally dripping in gold. They reportedly took close to an hour to layer on each day. The story behind each one dates back long before Mr. T found fame.
Mr. T’s unlikely rise to fame
Mr. T was born Laurence Tureaud on May 21, 1952 in Chicago. The youngest of 12 children, his father was a minister who left his family when T was five years old. Tureaud shortened his name to Tero until eventually legally changing his surname to T in 1970. He chose to add “Mr.” to directly challenge the disrespectful names he heard his father being called as a child.
“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 respect as a man?'” T said in a 1983 interview. “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.'”
In 1975, Mr. T enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Military Police Corps. After his discharge from the Army, Mr. T started working as a bouncer at a local club, where he developed the “Mr. T” persona we know and love today. After appearing on a TV special called “America’s Toughest Bouncer” in 1980, Sylvester Stallone approached Mr. T with an offer to appear in the third Rocky movie of the franchise, Rocky III. His iconic line “I don’t hate him but… I pity the fool” was actually inspired by something he had said before entering a boxing ring to fight a fellow bouncer.
Mr. T went on to star in the TV action-adventure series The A-Team as well as countless commercials, voice acting work, WWF wrestling specials, and cameos in various film and television productions.
What happened to his gold chains?
Mr. T’s most iconic accessory has to be his insane collection of gold chains. He started wearing them while he was still working as a bouncer. He would typically find gold chains left behind at the club where he worked, and would hang onto them even if anyone came to claim their property. Eventually, the meaning behind the gold chains evolved into something much deeper.
“I wear gold for three reasons. One, when Jesus was born, three wise men came from the east: one brought frankincense, one brought myrrh, the other one brought gold,” explained T. “The second reason I wear gold is I can afford it. The third reason I wear it, it’s symbolic of my African heritage.”
Mr. T’s iconic hairstyle is also a way he represents his African ancestry, something he first saw on a west African Mandinka warrior while reading a National Geographic early in his career. “When my ancestors came from Africa, they were shackled by our neck, our wrists, and our ankles in steel chains. I’ve turned those steel chains into gold to symbolize the fact that I’m still a slave, only my price tag is higher,” T once explained.
Even though the chains have a powerful meaning for Mr. T, he hasn’t been spotted wearing them for some time – and the reason why is extremely telling of Mr. T’s kind heart. After the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina decimated parts of New Orleans in 2005, Mr. T removed his chains for good. “It would be a sin against God for me to wear my gold when so many people lost everything” he shared.
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“Sure, it’s my trademark, but I am the same person whether I’m wearing the gold or not,” he added. “My moral values are the same. The gold don’t make me, I make the gold.”