There's been a recent celebrity real estate boom on television that has Vanilla Ice flipping homes as well as Daryl Hall and William Shatner renovating their own impressive houses. But it's Mr. T — still hard as nails at age 63 — who looks most comfortable with a sledgehammer in his new show, I Pity the Tool, that has him fixing homes for families in need.
On the first episode, Mr. T (born Laurence Tureaud) and his crew of contractors went to work for a Chicago man who had a 25-year-old connection to the show's host: he once received a visit from the A-Team and Rocky III star while he was lying face down in a hospital bed, recovering from a broken neck. "In order for him to see me," says Mr. T, "I had to crawl on the floor." To have this same guy apply years later to have his family's home get an upgrade for the new show was "a blessing," he tells Men's Journal. "How life comes together like that is just amazing."
The youngest boy in a family of 12 children (he has two younger sisters), Mr. T grew up accompanying his father, a minister and junkman, and his older brothers on job sites around the South Side of Chicago. They did repairs, built additions, and demolished old homes. A football and wrestling star in high school, Mr. T attended a vocational school, where he majored in brick masonry and studied in the wood and machine shops.
"On The A-Team, when you saw me welding and building, that was real," he says. "I brought all those talents with me to do the show." He has a professional crew to help with the more technical side of the work. "I'm not an electrician," he says. "I can lift stuff, bring the material in. I can paint, I can nail. I bring the physicality to it."
Though still a burly guy, the man who once served as a bodyguard for Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali isn't fanatical about staying ripped. "My M.O. is toughness, so I gotta work out," he says. "I get up in the morning, say my prayers, drink some water," and then he does a half-hour on the treadmill, pumps dumbbells and does several sets of sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups.
"If you can push up, you can get up. It's not how many times a man's been knocked down, it's how many times he gets up. "I'm in the knockdown business," he says, and he does seem to love taking a sledgehammer to the walls of cramped spaces. But as he's doing with this latest career reinvention, "you got to keep getting up."