CLOSE
Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

10 Things You Might Not Know About Mr. T

Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Laurence Tureaud, better known as "Mr. T," has been everything from a bodyguard to the stars to a cartoon to a member of The A-Team. Here are 10 things you might not know about the not-so-tough guy, who is celebrating his 65th birthday on May 21.

1. HIS ICONIC “I PITY THE FOOL” LINE CAME FROM ROCKY III.

In his first starring role, in 1982, Mr. T plays Rocky Balboa’s competitor Clubber Lang in the Sylvester Stallone written and directed Rocky III. During a part in the movie when Lang’s being interviewed about his upcoming boxing match, he’s asked if he hates Rocky: “No, I don’t hate Balboa, but I pity the fool. And I would destroy any man who tries to take what I got.” His prediction for the fight? “Pain!” Unfortunately, Rocky beats the crap out of Lang, so who’s the fool now? Nevertheless, the catchphrase stuck and launched more than 30 years of double entendres and jokes, including Mr. T starring in a reality show called I Pity the Fool, where he was a motivational speaker.

2. DESPITE GIVING UP HIS GOLD CHAINS A DECADE AGO, MR. T BECAME A SPOKESMAN FOR SELLING GOLD.

Following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Mr. T retired his mass of gold chains because “of the situation we’re in now (after Katrina), I told myself, ‘No, T, you can never wear your gold again.’ It’s an insult to God.” But in 2010, when the value of gold was skyrocketing, he signed up to promote Gold Promise, a gold-buying company. On the Bloomberg Business show Taking Stock, Mr. T said gold was something special to him, and that he bought his first gold chain in 1977, which he said cost him $129 and took him three months to get out of layaway. In 1983, an appraiser valued his gold collection at $43,316; by 2010 it was worth $123,480.

3. HE BEAT HIS TOUGHEST ENEMY: CANCER.

In 1995, after finding a small malignant tumor on his ear, Mr. T was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. “Can you imagine that? Cancer with my name on it—personalized cancer,” he recalled to Coping with Cancer magazine. At first he was lucky: after five treatments of radiation spanning four weeks, the cancer dissolved. But 11 months later the cancer returned, which resulted in him undergoing six weeks of high-dose chemotherapy. “My fame couldn’t save me!” he said. “My gold, my money couldn’t stop cancer from appearing on my body. If they can’t save me, then I don’t need them.” He then gave some advice: “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.” Mr. T’s now cancer free.

4. HE TURNED DOWN A CAMEO IN THE A-TEAM MOVIE.

When The A-Team film came out in 2010, Mr. T was not in it. Instead, actor Quinton Jackson played the role Mr. T made famous: B.A. Baracus. Mr. T went on The Wendy Williams Show and said he was approached to do a cameo in the film. “You must be out of your mind,” he said. “I’ve done cameos in other movies, but to ask me to come and take seconds? Mr. T takes seconds? I pity the fool.” Mr. T later condemned the movie’s violence. “People die in the film and there’s plenty of sex but when we did it, no one got hurt and it was all played for fun and family entertainment,” Mr T. told The Guardian. “These seem to be elements nobody is interested in anymore. It was too graphic for me. I’ve no doubt it will do big business at the box office but it’s nothing like the show we turned out every week.”

5. HE ANGERED HIS ILLINOIS NEIGHBORS WHEN HE CUT DOWN TREES.

The Chicago-born Mr. T had a home in the tony Chicago suburb of Lake Forest. In 1987, reportedly because of his allergies, he took a chainsaw to approximately 100 oak trees surrounding his property. Ironically, at the time—and every year since then—Lake Forest has been named a “Tree City, USA,” so its trees are considered sacred. According to a 1987 article in The New York Times, Mr. T would’ve needed to eradicate all trees in surrounding states to cure his allergies. “He’s smiling and laughing about all this,” one neighbor commented. “He thinks it’s a joke.” His neighbors dubbed the incident “The Lake Forest Chain Saw Massacre.”

6. IN 2014, HE WAS INDUCTED INTO THE WWE WRESTLING HALL OF FAME.

In the 1980s, Mr. T wrestled alongside Hulk Hogan in a couple of WrestleManias. In 2009, T turned down a chance to be inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame, because Pete Rose was inducted. “This guy can’t even get into his own Hall of Fame,” Mr. T told Ringside. “They put him in and he only did one WrestleMania, and he didn’t even wrestle.” Apparently T made peace with the Hall of Fame’s decision because last year he accepted the offer to be inducted. During his 40-minute induction ceremony speech—which was cut short because it was getting long—he talked extensively about his mother, especially how she raised him and his siblings as a single parent.

7. LAST YEAR HE AND “ROWDY” RODDY PIPER BURIED THEIR 30-YEAR FEUD.

During the first WrestleMania, in 1985, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan wrestled against Piper and Paul Orndorff. Hogan and T won the match, which led to some hostility between Piper and T. The pair met up again at WrestleMania 2, and Piper lost again. In a recent interview, Piper said his disdain for Mr. T started before WrestleMania 1, when they met at a press conference and Piper accidentally touched him even though he didn’t realize you’re not supposed to touch Mr. T. Piper said he thought Mr. T was arrogant, and told an anecdote about Mr. T making fun of Piper with a rubber chicken. In 2014 at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, the two, who were with their sons, ran into each other and shared a moment. Piper was impressed with how Mr. T’s son had just obtained a master’s degree and felt Mr. T had raised his son right.

8. HE’S SUPPOSEDLY DOING ANOTHER REALITY SHOW.

As if I Pity the Fool wasn’t enough, Mr. T has signed on to do a home improvement repair show for the DIY Network called … wait for it … I Pity the Tool. He and a team of people will knock down walls and renovate houses for families who live in “outdated spaces”—a sort of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, except with the added possibility of seeing Mr. T yell at some tools.

9. HE’S IN DEMAND TO STAR IN THE EXPENDABLES 4.

One person who’s been absent from The Expendables franchise is Mr. T, and some people think it’s an outrage. A Facebook page called “1,000,000 Strong for Mr. T in The Expendables 4 serves as a petition to Hollywood to cast Mr. T in the next Expendables project. The page was formed a few years ago during the casting of The Expendables 3, but Mr. T was overlooked. “Did you sleep on your Bruce Willis sheets when you were a kid? Did you eat Sylvester Stallone cereal? Did you play with an Arnold Schwarzenegger action figure or was it of a character he played? Mr. T had his own cartoon. Mr. T should be cast in the next Expendables movie,” reads the page’s mission. Earlier this year Fox announced that they are developing an Expendables TV series, so maybe there’s a chance for Mr. T yet.

10. HE IS ABLE TO MAKE FUN OF HIMSELF.

In one of Conan O’Brien’s favorite remote shoots, in October of 2000 he and Mr. T went apple picking at an orchard in New York—and hilarity ensued. Preying upon T’s angry persona, in the segment Conan coerces Mr. T to yell at the apples so they’ll fall off the tree (they don't). Then Mr. T pulverizes a bee inside an apple and wheels Conan around in a wheelbarrow. The pair pretends to cut a tree (more Mr. T tree violence), and they finally drive off with a lot of apples tucked inside Mr. T’s Bentley.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
Getty Images
Getty Images

Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios