Today In History/Take Five: Personal Meditations on Mr. T

Happy birthday to Mr. T, born Laurence Tureaud in Chicago on May 21st, 1952. I’m sure many other sites will tell you about his role as Clubber Lang in Rocky III, his WWE Hall of Fame pro wrestling career, and his four-year run as B.A. Baracus in the ’80s action series The A-Team. So, here are some personal observations and meditations on the star, in no particular order.

1) Mr. T has appeared in several comic sketches with Conan O’Brien. On 2003’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien 10th Anniversary Special, he insisted that while Conan had been on TV for ten years, he’d only been funny for seven. Then there’s this gem from a 2009 episode of Conan:

2) Over the years, a lot of merchandise has been issued in Mr. T’s likeness, including B.A. Baracus dolls and the Mr. T Chia Head. (A truly dizzying array can be seen here.) I am the proud owner of a Mr. T In Your Pocket, an unwieldy plastic keychain that has six buttons, each corresponding to a Mr. T saying. My favorite is the one where Mr. T barks “First name Mister, middle name period, last name…T!” (It’s true: he did legally change his name to Mr. T in 1982.)

3) In September 1984, St. Martin’s Press published Mr. T’s The Man With The Gold: An Autobiography. I haven’t read the book, but Debbie Harry read selections from it as part of Celebrity Autobiography in this year’s Sketchfest. Her performance was delightful, even if it gave me some intense cognitive dissonance.

4) When I was a child, my dentist had an A-Team cast photo on display in his office. It was signed by all the actors, including Mr. T. I was really impressed (and heartbroken when, years later, I noticed that the photo had gone missing). Dr. Bruno had received the photo from a friend who knew George Peppard, and claimed that he didn’t watch the show himself. Whatever you say, Bruce!

5) In 1984, Mr. T released two albums: Mr. T’s Commandments, and Be Somebody…or Be Somebody’s Fool. The latter recording is the soundtrack for an exceptionally surreal straight-to-video special of the same name, which has inspired many YouTube viewings and a sublime Key and Peele parody. In their (highly recommended) book Hollywood Hi-Fi, George Gimarc and Pat Reeder note that “Mr. T proves to be about as graceful and fluid at rapping as he would be at toe dancing.” I will point out that Mr. T did execute a nice pirouette in the “Trust” episode of his 2006 reality show I Pity The Fool, so make of that what you will.

While researching this post, I found no fewer than three songs called “The Ballad of Mr. T.” May this modern-day folk legend continue to be larger than life.

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