Huge and bronze and menacing, he looks like an evil genie who has just blasted out of a bottle. His head is a glistening cannonball topped with a warlike ridge of coarse hair. His naked torso ripples with enormous muscles beneath festoons of ponderous gold necklaces. His eyes are locked in an angry glare, and his big ivory teeth grind and glitter. “I’m startin’ to get maaaaaaaaad,” he growls, “and you don’t ever wanna see me maaaaaaaaad!”
Comic-strip character? Autoerotic fantasy? Oddjob disguised as Shazam? No, all those muscles and bangles adorn (are you ready for this?) a major role model of the rising generation. His moniker is Mr. T, and as the most popular (and violent) character on the most popular (and violent) new show on the prime-time tube—a meat-head version of Mission Impossible known as The A-Team and described by one NBC executive as “T-rash”—Mr. T, at 31, is indisputably the show-business Manic of the Year.
“I’m big and black,” he brays with glee, “and now I’m becoming rich and black!” A hot new contract pays him close to $1 million a year for The A-Team; for a TV guest shot he swaggers away with more than $45,000; and then there’s a bundle coming in from Mr. T dolls and a new Mr. T cartoon series on NBC.
Success hasn’t spoiled Mr. T. “God did it all!” he bellows. “I don’t shout on Sunday and doubt on Monday. The Good Lord is responsible for it all!” If in fact the Good Lord helped, He helped a man who sure helped himself. He was born Lawrence Tureaud and raised in a Chicago ghetto by a God-fearing mother whose husband abandoned her with 12 children and an $87-a-month relief check. (T is a devoted father to his daughter, Lesa, 13, born out of wedlock.) At 22, he set himself up as “Mr. T, the World’s Greatest Bodyguard” for a celebrity clientele that included Muhammad AN and Michael Jackson. Salary: $2,000 a day. Fame came in 1980, when Sylvester Stallone signed Mr. T to play Clubber Lang, the brute who knocked Rocky’s block off in Rocky III, and with it began a mighty struggle between God and Mammon.
So far God seems to be winning. Mr. T recently gave $10,000 to Chicago’s Cosmopolitan Community Church and can often be found in a black ghetto, up to his earrings in young admirers, shouting a sermon on the dangers of drugs and violence and the virtues of hard work and three square prayers a day. Much too busy to examine the contradiction between what he preaches on the street and practices on the screen, Mr. T recently completed an action comedy called D.C. Cab and will soon start shooting a TV movie called The World’s Strongest Man. Last week, at the request of the First Lady, he played Santa Claus at a press tour of the White House. Yet he dreams of higher things. “I’m talented and flexible,” he says with a faraway expression. “I could play Hamlet, even though I look like King Kong.”