Video: Mr. T's back, pitying the fools

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updated 10/11/2006 8:48:50 PM ET 2006-10-12T00:48:50

For those of you who remember Mr. T as the chain-wearing, mohawked, tough guy from The A-Team, get ready to see him in a whole new light. He's still king of the rhyming one-liners, like "I'm teaching fools some basic rules."

But he's now offering those aforementioned fools guidance on everything from business to love in his new reality series, "I Pity the Fool" (also one of his one-liners), which begins tomorrow at 10 p.m. on TV Land.

Mr. T as corporate consultant? Isn't this the same guy who didn't utter more than three sentences as B.A. Baracus? Yes. But there are a few things you should know about Mr. T’s real-life resolve. He's a cancer survivor who was plagued by tabloids that were on an all-out death watch during his illness in 1995.

He bootstrapped himself out of poverty after being raised by a single mother along with 11 siblings on the rough South Side of Chicago. He tried out for the Green Bay Packers but had to change his career goals after a debilitating knee injury. Surviving those tough times gave him a unique perspective on life, he says.

Underneath all those muscles is a heart of, er, gold. T, who changed his name from Lawrence Tureaud, manages to work his two favorite topics — his 89-year-old mother and God — into virtually every question asked. Even when talking about the first episode of "I Pity the Fool," in which he brought old-fashioned teamwork to a New York City-area car dealership. "My mother told me, 'Son, if you work hard, you'll get something,' " Mr. T said during a recent phone conversation. "I don't want to disgrace my mother."

She's sure to be proud. Just like on The A-Team, the good guy always prevails. T gets the dealership's top brass — a demanding father-in-law and a beleaguered son-in-law — to work out their problems by talking and listening.

At 54, Mr. T is a bit trimmer, slightly weathered and prone to wearing an orange track suit. He's still larger than life, though, and was very happy to discuss "I Pity the Fool" and everything that came before it in a conversation with Forbes.com.

Forbes: Lots of us remember you as Sgt. B.A. Baracus from The A-Team and as Clubber Lang in Rocky III. But what makes you qualified to dispense business and relationship advice?

Mr. T: My life changed in 1983 when I met a kid named Ryan who was dying from cystic fibrosis. He met me through the Make a Wish Foundation. Evidently he saw a God quality in me that I didn’t even see in myself. That changed my life. After that, other little sick kids would ask me to visit them. I felt my strength was in uplifting those kids.

When I first hit the big screen, people saw me as a big, black guy with a funny haircut. I looked like a killer. Inside, I'm not. I tell them I love them and that God loves them, and that they shouldn’t quit. I tried to boost their courage and prepare for the fight.

In 1995 I was diagnosed with cancer. I went through chemo and radiation. That gives me another platform to speak from and give hope.

Forbes: What were your symptoms — how did you know to go to the doctor?

Mr. T: I had a pimple on my ear. I went to get it checked out for vanity or whatnot. I didn't want to be down signing autographs and have people say, What is that? At first the doctor thought it was an infection. He gave me antibiotics. But it turned out to be T-cell lymphoma.

Forbes: In the first episode of your new series, you shape up a car dealership that's in the doldrums. The finance guy gave you a hard time about dropping prices. But you kept telling him to look at it not as one sale but as making a lifetime customer. That's pretty good advice. Where'd you get it from?

Mr. T: It's advice I took from my own life. I try to establish life-long relationships with people. The people who grew up watching The A-Team, they've known me for years. … They see I didn't quit when I got sick.

Forbes: I noticed you're not wearing your trademark chains on the show. Where'd they go?

Mr. T: As a Christian, when I saw what happened during Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, I took my gold off. I cried when I watched the tapes of people who lost everything. I'm never wearing my gold again; I wouldn't want to be flashing the gold after so many people lost everything. This overshadowed 9/11. People didn't lose their clothes then. The damage Katrina caused stretched across the coast. It hit so many people.

Forbes: What were you doing prior to "I Pity the Fool?"

Mr. T: I made a little money. And like the Bible says, I was enjoying the fruits of my labor. This is my comeback. This is me doing what I love to do.

Forbes: Is there a Mrs. T?

Mr. T: I've never been married. I have two daughters with one woman. One daughter is 36, another is 28. My son is 20, and he's in college. I'm a grandfather. I'm not dating. I had my fun. I used to work at a disco. I know what to do. There's a joke I say: Just when you find a lady that cooks like your mother, she looks like your mother.

Forbes: Why are you so darn good at the one-liners? You might call it jibba-jabba.

Mr. T: It's like my mother says: I have a gift of the words. Maybe I'm charming. But it is a gift. I have seven brothers, and they're introverts. I'm an extrovert. I love people.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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