Mr. T has packed a lot of different careers into his 66 years, from a brief stint as a military policeman to trying out for the Green Bay Packers (a knee injury prevented him from making the team).

In the 1970s, T (real name: Laurence Tureaud) paid the bills working as a security guard and bouncer in Chicago. His threatening appearance at Windy City hotspots meant he rubbed elbows with celebrities, some of whom turned to him for private bodyguard work—and he took his work very seriously. “To be a bodyguard is to be a kamikaze pilot,” he once said, and the statement on his business card supported his all-in attitude: “Next to God, there is no better protector than I.”

The pitch worked—his clients included Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Leon Spinks, and Steve McQueen, among others.

Being a bouncer and celebrity protector is also what ultimately gave T his big break in Hollywood. In 1980, he appeared on an NBC game show called Games People Play. His game? Playing catch with a 120-pound stuntman as part of a toughest bouncer contest. Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky III casting agent happened to see the program, and were so impressed with T's toughness that they offered him the role of Clubber Lang.

This article originally ran in 2015.