Famous Veteran: Mr. T

Mr. T
Army National Guard veteran Mr. T's big break in Hollywood came when Sylvester Stallone cast him in 'Rocky III.'

There are a lot of surprising facts about the life of pop-culture icon Mr. T, but for starters, pity the fool that doesn't know he was a soldier in the U.S. Army.

The man who would be Mr. T started life as part of a large family in a Chicago project with the name Laurence Tureaud. The young Tureaud was a physical beast from an early age, becoming the citywide high school wrestling champion -- three times. He also played football, studied martial arts and even earned a football scholarship to Texas' Prairie View A&M University.

Academic life didn't suit him, however, and he went to work at a gym for a few years. During this time, before he was ever famous, he changed his name. The reason? Respect.

"I think about my father being called 'boy,' my uncle being called 'boy,' my brother, coming back from Vietnam and being called 'boy,'" he told the Huffington Post. "So I questioned myself: 'What does a Black man have to do before he's given respect as a man?' 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 didn't join the military in time to serve in Vietnam, but he did join the Army National Guard. In 1975, he became Pvt. Mr. T. By all accounts, he was a good soldier, earning a letter of recommendation from his drill sergeant, joining the Military Police corps and earning the position of squad leader at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.

There is one legend (that happens to be true) where Mr. T was less than an ideal soldier. At some point during his military career, a platoon sergeant started "throwing his weight around." He ordered Pvt. Mr. T to chop down trees on the base but failed to mention how many. Mr. T axed 70 trees in 3.5 hours before the company commander ordered him to stop.

After leaving the military, he tried out to play football for the Green Bay Packers, but a knee injury ended that possibility. Mr. T became a bouncer for the next 10 years, which may not sound like a great career move upfront, but it was both how he gained an iconic image and how he was discovered. The chains he became famous for were actually those lost during nightclub brawls or trophies won when he tossed a patron.

Soon after, his physical size became a great asset, and he became a hired bodyguard for Hollywood elite, including Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Even boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier hired him. He was featured on an NBC television show covering the world's toughest bouncers. That's how Sylvester Stallone first noticed him.

Stallone cast Mr. T to play his main opponent, "Clubber Lang," in "Rocky III," which would turn out to be Mr. T's big break. Stallone and Mr. T can be seen exchanging real blows in that fight scene, because they agreed if they couldn't remember the choreography, they would just actually clock each other -- so it would look real to viewers and fans.

After that, he appeared in a stream of films and television shows, including one named after himself; partnered with Hulk Hogan at World Wrestling Federation events; and, of course, played the role of B.A. Baracus on "The A-Team."

Mr. T's latest victim was T-cell lymphoma, with which he was diagnosed multiple times. His latest diagnosis came in 2005, to which he said:

"I pity the fool who just gives up. We all gonna die eventually from something or other, but don't be a wimp. Put up a good fight. Don't sit around waiting on death. We can be tough. We can be determined. Go out and have some fun and make death find you! We can be living with cancer, not dying from it. We can be cancer survivors."

Related: To create a personalized transition plan for yourself, and for transition guides and checklists, visit the Military.com Transition Center.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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