Mr. T recalls how Sylvester Stallone tabbed him for the role of Clubber Lang that forever changed his life.
My first memories of Mr. T are from the old Chicago Stadium. Mr. T had just begun his meteoric rise to fame starring as Clubber Lang in Rocky III. He was about to become a TV star as a member of the popular 1980’s sitcom The A-Team.
Fans were interested in Michael Jordan and whoever the Chicago Bulls were playing in those pre-championship days, but they were more attentive in Mr. T, and when he would make his strategic entrance in the second quarter to his courtside seats for all to see.
“We would wait until the game got started then we would come in when the Bulls were playing Dr. J, when they were playing Atlanta with Dominique Wilkins. Oh man (laughing), that was wild, that was something. Those were my fun years, that was the start of everything,” Mr. T told Da Windy City podcast.
Mr. T’s rise to fame started as a bodyguard to the stars but can be traced to one night when he was working for Leon Spinks at his 1978 title bout versus Mohammed Ali at the Louisiana Superdome and certain movie star showed up.
Sylvester Stallone, aka Rocky, had come to the locker room to see Spinks after the match. Mr. T wasn’t having it.
“I didn’t let him in. Unless Leon told me you were coming in then I was not going to let you in celebrity or not,” Mr. T said.
Stallone appreciated Mr. T doing his job for Spinks as well as Mr. T’s story. The now-famous actor was born Lawrence Tureaud, and grew up in Chicago’s housing projects. Stallone himself had made his way out of working class Hell’s Kitchen in New York.
Two years later, Stallone was home one night watching a televised bouncers’ contest and saw Mr. T’s brute force in action, and wanted him to play Clubber Lang’s part on Rocky III. The part was originally for a fighter from New York with a Jamaican accent.
Mr. T did his best to adapt to the role, buying reggae records and talking to as many Jamaicans as he could. It was not going great. When Stallone got word of Mr. T’s effort from a casting director, he put a stop to the record buying and accent learning.
“Tell Mr. T to forget the Jamaican accent. I want him to be him, be Mr. T from Chicago. I said ‘oh boy, I got this now,’” Mr. T said.
Then there were casting directors who wanted to send Mr. T to acting school once they started training for Rocky III in 1981. Again Stallone stepped in.
“He said no, don’t touch him. You touch him, you’re going to mess him up. I want his rawness.” Mr. T said.
Mr. T’s catch phrase “I pity the fool” remains popular to this day, almost 40 years after Rocky III. When asked to reveal people Mr. T pities these days, he declined, but he did bring up a group.
“I pity the fool that don’t respect his mother because I am an old fashioned, overgrown, tough, bible quoting, butt kicking Mama’s boy. I pity the fool who don’t love and respect his mother,” Mr. T said.
Mr. T is working with Tide and their #TurnToCold campaign which is meant to help educate consumers about the environmental benefits of washing in cold water.