In his early years, Booker T would have appeared to be an unlikely future wrestling star. He lacked support after being orphaned at the age of 13. He became a father before he turned 18. And by the time he was in his 20s, he was a convicted felon who’d served a 19-month prison sentence. Yet Booker possessed the ability to overcome tough circumstances. When he had the opportunity to embark upon a wrestling career, he was able to rise from the rough-and-tumble world of smaller promotions to become a two-time Hall of Famer at the WWE.
Booker lost both parents at a young age
Booker was only 10 months old when his father died. Following this loss, his family relocated to Houston, where his mother worked as a nurse. Booker, the youngest of his mother’s four girls and four boys, grew up as a self-described “mama’s boy.” When his mother passed away due to complications from surgery, the loss devastated 13-year-old Booker.
After his mother died, Booker was left feeling alone in the world. He and his next oldest sister stayed in the home they’d shared with their mother, remaining even after the water and electricity had been shut off. When the house was foreclosed upon, he went to live with an older sister. However, Booker believed that no one cared if he attended school. He also had to deal with violence – he even witnessed an altercation that resulted in the death of a classmate. Booker ended up in a world of drugs and parties. At the age of 17, he became the father of a baby boy.
He served time behind bars
Booker took a job at a Wendy’s restaurant, where he encountered a difficult manager. Along with some friends, he decided to rob this manager’s Wendy franchise. Following the success of that robbery, Booker went on to rob several other Wendy’s restaurants. His crime spree continued until he was arrested in April 1987.
Booker admitted his guilt in the robberies and took a plea deal. He was given a five-year sentence and was sent to a state prison where inmates were expected to spend hours clearing fields by hand. Booker was able to earn his GED there.
After 19 months behind bars, Booker was released on parole. He stole from a drug dealer in order to obtain the funds he needed to pursue custody of his son (the child’s mother had drug problems and the boy had been sent into foster care), but Booker’s main focus after prison was moving on with his life.
Booker’s brother, Lash “Stevie Ray” Huffman, helped Booker find work as a security guard. That opportunity ended when the employer learned of Booker’s prison record. Fortunately, his boss had appreciated Booker’s work and gave him a job at a mini storage site.
With financial help, Booker began wrestling
In 1989, Stevie Ray suggested the pair attend a wrestling school run by Ivan Putski. Booker, who’d loved wrestling as a boy, was interested, but the $4,000 fee was out of his reach. Luckily, Booker’s boss at the storage site decided to sponsor him and pay the fees.
From the beginning, wrestling proved to be a natural fit for Booker. Wearing an Army hat he’d found in a storage unit, he took on the name G.I. Bro. After the wrestling course, Booker and Stevie Ray were soon appearing with the Western Wrestling Alliance. When that closed down, they moved to Texas All-Pro Wrestling. Next, the Global Wrestling Federation, based in Dallas, became interested in the pair. GWF asked Booker and his brother if they’d ever worked as a tag team. The siblings stretched the truth and said they had, though in fact, they’d only worked on opposing sides.
For GWF, Booker and his brother formed a tag team called the Ebony Experience and made their debut in May 1992. Unfortunately, when the pair appeared at wrestling events audiences often hurled racial epithets, including the n-word, at them. Booker eventually realized he was able to reach these wrestling fans by focusing on entertaining them. What would become his trademark move, the breakdance-inspired “Spinaroonie,” in which Booker dropped to the mat and spun his legs around before popping back up, became a big crowd-pleaser.
Booker and his brother became WCW superstars
With his brother, Booker became a GWF star, and he and Stevie Ray won the Tag Team championship. Yet wrestling remained a side gig, as Booker still had to work other jobs to survive. That changed when World Championship Wrestling contacted Booker and Stevie Ray.
The brothers signed with WCW and by 1993 they were appearing as a tag team dubbed the Harlem Heat. The popular pair would become 10-time WCW Tag Team Champions. Next, with his brother’s blessing, Booker embarked upon a singles career that made him an even bigger star. In a surprise move, after Jeff Jarrett relinquished the WCW belt to Hulk Hogan in 2000, WCW declared there would be another championship showdown. With minutes to prepare, Booker wrestled Jarrett and became the WCW’s first Black champion since 1992, which he later described as “a moment that changed my life.”
Booker remained with WCW until 2001 when WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) acquired the promotion. Booker held WCW’s World Heavyweight Championship title when WCW ended, making him the organization’s final heavyweight champion.
He thrived during his WWE career
Instead of resting on his WCW laurels — and drawing the remaining paychecks from his contract — Booker quickly started working at WWE. He had an inauspicious start when he faced off with wrestling legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. During their encounter, Austin accidentally slid off a table and was injured. Yet the incident didn’t prevent Booker from continuing as a WWE wrestler.
Booker’s WWE career gave him the chance to further display his talents as an entertainer, while also showcasing his comedic chops. One notable encounter took place in December 2001, when he and Austin laid waste to a grocery store. Booker’s “Spinaroonie” also remained a key fixture of his wrestling persona, and he even encouraged other WWE wrestlers, as well as owner Vince McMahon, to try their hands at the move. Booker later broke out in a British accent and became King Booker, with his wife at his side as Queen Sharmell.
As King Booker, he became champion in the 2006 King of the Ring Tournament. Booker left the WWE in 2012, but his contributions and achievements in wrestling were recognized when he was twice inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame: in 2013 for his solo work, and in 2019 for his time as part of the tag team the Harlem Heat.