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The Meaning Behind Mr. T’s Gold Chains and Why He No Longer Wears Them

Photo Credit: Eric Robert / Sygma / Sygma via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Eric Robert / Sygma / Sygma via Getty Images

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.

Mr T in 1983
Mr. T at the 9th Annual People’s Choice Awards, 1983. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images)

“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.'”

Mr. T and Nancy Reagan at Christmas time
Mr. T poses as Santa Claus to help First Lady Nancy Reagan unveil the White House Christmas decorations. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

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.

Side by side images of Mr. T in 1984 and 2017
Before and After: (L) Mr. T in 1984. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images), (R) Mr. T in 2017. (Photo Credit: David Livingston / Getty Images)

“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.

Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T face off at a Rocky III press conference.
Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T at the press conference for Rocky III. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images)

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.

More from us: Why Daniel Craig Decided to Leave His James Bond Role

“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.”

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast