June 07 - Mr T interview
The A Team’s formidable star, Mr T, tells James Hastings how prayer helped him face his toughest challenge – cancer
He was the quiet hero who could terrify the bad guys with just one snarl.
As BA - it stood for Bad Attitude - in the hit TV show The A Team, Mr T won a legion of fans for his tough guy image, while managing to make transit vans cool.
But after years of relying on souped-up vehicles, high-powered guns and a stare that could freeze water at 50 paces, Mr T discovered a new weapon - prayer.
He was just 43 and at the height of his career when doctors diagnosed him with cancer. For once, the prize-fighter who took on Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky movies, knew the real meaning of fear.
“I thought I was tough, but going through cancer? That was tough,” says Mr T.
“Cancer patients are really tough. They don’t quit. That’s why I wear it like a badge of honour. I’m proud to be a cancer survivor.”
Facing his toughest ever challenge, Mr T says he relied on more than just his snarling, no-nonsense TV persona, BA. “I discovered the power of prayer to heal,” he explains.
“You think you’re tough, that you can rely on yourself, but God has a way of reaching you through prayer, showing your weakness and giving you a strength you could never dream of.
“When I disappeared off the TV screens, people asked what I’d been doing. Was I down the gym? Was I reading scripts? No, I was on my knees in prayer.”
Born Laurence Turead in 1952, he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Mr T was the 11th of 12 children squeezed into a cramped house in one of Chicago’s most notorious, crime-ridden housing schemes.
He played football and studied martial arts before going to university in Texas where he was eventually thrown out. After stints in the army as a military policeman, Mr T became a professional bodyguard to sports stars such as Muhammed Ali.
It was during this period that he started wearing his trademark jewellery, often confiscating rings and necklaces from people he had to challenge. As the big contracts grew, so did the salary.
“All I ever wanted out of life was to buy my mother a house,” he smiles. “Then I got the role in Rocky and it was amazing. I was an overnight success. The next thing, I was doing The A Team. By 1995, I had achieved all that I wanted materially in my life.”
That same year, out of the blue, Mr T was diagnosed with cancer. For 10 years, Mr T disappeared off the showbiz radar. It wasn’t only his career that slowed - it was his life as well. It would prove a major factor in his growing Christian faith.
“The best advice I ever had came from my mother,” he adds. “She said, son, do your best and God will do the rest. I’ve always tried to follow that advice.
“During my illness, I discovered the power of prayer. I discovered humility. There I was thinking I’m some sort of tough guy but I was broken, and yet God still loved me and cared for me.
“As I recovered, the offers of work came in. But that was God working in my life. It’s not some Hollywood producer or some TV director who decides when I work. It’s God who does that. He is the powerful one.”
When Mr T re-emerged to the world, people instantly noticed something missing - his famous gold chains and rings. Worth an estimated £300,000, he sold them, giving the money to his family and charities.
“I stopped wearing the gold after Hurricane Katrina,” he says. “When I saw people suffering, my heart went out to them. I said that as a Christian, I would never wear my gold again. The only gold I have now is in my false gold tooth. Basically, I want people to know I have a heart of gold, and not just gold around my neck.”
Mr T is currently wowing American TV audiences with his show called I Pity the Fool. There’s talk it could soon come to Britain. He acts as a spiritual and physical trouble-shooter, offering advice to people struggling to make their business or relationships work.
“People look up to me as a righteous guy who has never quit. Maybe I would have. But I found Jesus in prayer when I was low, so no matter what hits me, man, I know I’ll never be defeated.”
You just know it’s a storyline that would make a great episode of The A Team.
James Hastings is a journalist based in Somerset
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