How The A-Team sparked the cult phenomenon that was Mr. T
The A-Team icon took credit for creating the character of B.A. Baracus.
In the second season of The A-Team, an episode called "Chopping Spree" found B.A. Baracus using his van as bait in an attempt to catch car thieves.
When the van gets stolen, the mechanic B.A.’s attachment to his van becomes clear.
"Keep your eyes peeled," B.A. says in the episode. "I need my van."
His fans undoubtedly pulled for him in this moment, as Mr. T had become The A-Team’s biggest hero.
Playing B.A. was Mr. T, who instantly became The A-Team’s breakout star. Suddenly after the premiere, Mr. T was on the cover of every magazine, and he became so in-demand for interviews that newspapers reported disappointment whenever he had to decline.
In particular, Mr. T was popular with kids who watched The A-Team and marveled at the muscle man who reportedly wore $250,000 worth of gold and jewelry.
Mr. T was not surprised by his overnight cult hero status, though his much more famous costars might’ve been.
"I’ve always been a winner," Mr. T told The Alternative Press in 1983. "There’s something that sets me apart from everybody else."
The A-Team star became so popular that soon people wondered how similar to his character B.A. the real Mr. T was.
One fan named J.P. wrote into a TV column called "Ask Bob" in 1983, "Is the character of B.A. Baracus on The A-Team based on Mr. T’s personality? For example, Mr. T loves children and so does B.A."
Bob responded that B.A. Baracus is patterned after Mr. T’s "image," rather than his actual personality.
Mr. T himself said B.A. was completely his creation, though, so even if B.A. wasn’t just like Mr. T, he was a character that Mr. T shaped.
"When Stephen Cannell called me about The A-Team, I said if you let me do my thing, can’t anybody do it any better," Mr. T said. "Don’t restrict me or hold me back, it’ll flow."
Before The A-Team, Mr. T had worked as a bodyguard to the stars, protecting high-profile celebrities like Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and Muhammad Ali from danger for $10,000 a day.
Once he made the switch to acting, he memorably appeared in Rocky III, leading to appearances as himself on Saturday Night Live and Silver Spoons in 1982.
But once The A-Team premiered, Mr. T became a household name, earning $80,000 a week for his role as B.A., with Bob from "Ask Bob" describing in detail why exactly Mr. T was worth every penny, because the muscle man was so universally appealing:
"He’s the strong father image some kids have never known. He’s the guy you always prayed would happen along when some bully picked on you at the playground. And he’s the guy grownups secretly envy for his ability to deal decisively with confrontations most of us might run from."
He praised Mr. T for turning down lucrative but unsavory roles that would have alienated young fans. "Even if he’s a short-lived phenomenon, the T-Man is currently riding the crest of a well-orchestrated public relations campaign that will leave him a very wealthy man. I think he deserves every buck he makes."
"Mr. T was smart enough to realize there was a gold mine out there if he approached it correctly. In my opinion, he’s made all the right moves."
Once Mr. T gained his overnight fame, his first move was to build a house for his mom, who had raised him and his 11 siblings all on her own.
He also spent every extra second not doing press spending time at his church and volunteering with young kids who had grown up living in poverty, becoming just as famous for sharing his wealth with the less fortunate.
In his real life he was known as a sensitive and religious man, and Mr. T was grateful The A-Team gave him the springboard to security his family had always sought and prayed for.
But he ultimately took credit for shaping the image of both Mr. T and B.A., and becoming the sort of cult phenomenon that still persists in pop culture memory today.
"There’s just a certain chemistry that I have that draws people to me," Mr. T said. "Maybe they’re awed in my presence, or maybe they like me... Like I said, not being cocky or conceited, everything I touch turns to gold. I know if I do my best, God’ll do the rest."