The story behind Nancy Reagan's friendship with Mr. T
First Lady Nancy Reagan sits on the knee of television personality Mr. T, dressed as Santa Claus in 1983. (Wikipedia photo) First Lady Nancy Reagan sits on the knee of television personality Mr. T, dressed as Santa Claus in 1983. (Wikipedia photo)

First Lady Nancy Reagan sits on the knee of television personality Mr. T, dressed as Santa Claus in 1983. (Wikipedia photo)

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu March 8, 2016

The passing of Nancy Reagan evoked a tribute from another icon of the ‘80s: actor, rapper and fellow anti-drug campaigner, Mr.T.

"I am not a Republican nor am I a Democrat, but I am just a Christian brother from the hood trying to do some good! I will truly miss First Lady Nancy Reagan. I will never forget her," Mr. T wrote on Twitter.

We had to know the backstory behind this viral picture shared after Reagan’s death.

How did the pair get so tight?

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Reagan recruited Mr. T, born Laurence Tureaud, for her Just Say No project. Their partnership began when the actor’s antidrug stance prompted an invitation from the First Lady to preview the White House Christmas decorations in 1983.

Mr. T put on a sleeveless Santa suit, gold chains and a pair of old work boots. Reagan "doted on the Terrific T," sat on his knee and kissed his head, reported the Washington Post.

"Wow! Wow, growl, wow!" he shouted, according to news reports at the time. "Burt Reynolds, eat your heart out."

For the next few years, Mr. T lent his celebrity to the Just Say No campaign, starring in a memorable public service announcement, headlining antidrug rallies and devoting songs to the message.

Mr. T appeared again with the Reagans at a 1989 charity dinner for the Nancy Reagan Center for drug treatment in the San Fernando Valley of California. Even after Ronald Reagan left the White House, Mr. T continued to work with Mrs. Reagan on Just Say No.

Following Reagan’s death, Mr. T wrote that working with the First Lady was "the highlight of my career."  

Mr. T, now 63 and the host of a home improvement show called "I Pity the Tool," vowed to continue doing Reagan’s work in trying to keep kids off drugs.

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Our Sources

Twitter, Mr. T, accessed March 8, 2016

CQ search, Nexis search

Washington Post, "On the Knee of Santa T; The Tough Guy & The First Lady Kick Off a White House Christmas," Dec. 13, 1983

Newsweek, "Christmas in Washington," Dec. 26, 1983

Chicago Tribune, "Hollywood welcomes the Reagans back home," Jan. 6, 1989

Chicago Tribune, "Just Say No rally part of special day," May 12, 1989

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The story behind Nancy Reagan's friendship with Mr. T