Chuck Norris has captivated film audiences and TV viewers alike with his charisma and physical gifts since the first time he showed up on screen to fight Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon. In the 45 years since, Chuck has become a mainstay of pop culture through his roles on shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger and even jokes about the power of his beard.
Facing A Bigger Foe
For someone as successful as Chuck Norris, it seems strange to decide to step out of the limelight. However, Chuck has recently decided to do just that. Even though he’s one of the biggest action stars in history, he is now facing an opponent that’s worse than any on-screen villain. That’s because he’s dropped out of acting to face off against a big, widely unchallenged, foe.
From Carlos To Chuck
Chuck Norris was actually born as Carlos Ray Norris in 1940. He didn’t start getting called Chuck until he served in the U.S. Air Force, where his fellow servicemen called him by the nickname. This was also a very influential time for Chuck because it was when he started training in the martial arts. He enjoyed the experience so much that he kept training until he won a middleweight karate championship in 1968.
Lost His First Three Tournaments
After returning from his deployment in Korea, Norris decided to enter the fighting competition circuit. He actually lost his first three tournaments. However, that only gave him more motivation, and by 1966 he was unstoppable. That year he won the National Karate Championship as well as the All-Star Championships. From that point on, Chuck Norris’ name was both celebrated and feared in the sport.
An Unstoppable Force
By 1968, Chuck Norris had won many of the elite karate competitions. At the time of his retirement in 1974, he held a record of 65-5. Those five losses consisted of three to Allen Steen and one each to Joe Lewis and Louis Delgado. According to IMDB, “Norris retired as undefeated Professional Full-Contact Middleweight Champion in 1974.”
Entering The Acting World
Chuck Norris quickly gained fame in the karate circuit through not only his winnings but also his karate studio. His studio was a hotbed for celebrities. His student list included people such as Steve McQueen, Priscilla Presley, and the Osmonds. Actor Steve McQueen, best known for his films such as “The Sand Pebbles,” began to urge Norris to get into acting.
Karate Studio Leads To A Film Studio
Norris listened to McQueen and began exploring his options in acting. He landed his first role in the 1968 film The Wrecking Crew. Along with his celebrity connections, his martial arts network also paid off, when his friendship with Bruce Lee led to his role in Way of the Dragon. Many can still remember the famed fight scene, from this film, between Lee and Norris in the Roman Colosseum.
First Starring Role
Norris continued to receive small roles in action films following Way of the Dragon. But, in 1977, he got his first leading role in Breaker! Breaker! The film is about a truck driver, played by Norris, who goes searching for his brother in a town run a by a corrupt judge. Although it wasn’t a critically acclaimed film, it was the beginning of Norris’ stardom.
“That Was My First Real Film”
By 1977, Chuck Norris had already appeared in several films. However, he didn’t consider any of them a “real film.” He considers his first real film 1978’s Good Guys Wear Black. Although he said it was tough to make due to all the dialogue, a group of great actors helped him through. No movie studio wanted to pick up the film. Therefore, Norris and the rest of the cast and the crew rented theatres across the country to show the film. They ended up profiting nearly $17 million.
The Fan Favorite
In 1983, Chuck Norris portrayed many of his fans’ favorite character, J.J. McQuade. Foreshadowing his future roles, the film revolves around Texas ranger, J.J. McQuade, who uses his martial arts and wit to take down a drug kingpin. Norris told Black Belt that this was also one of his favorite films. The film was a worldwide hit, and even tough Film Critic Roger Ebert said the McQuade character was worthy of his own film series.
A Tribute To His Brother
Norris’ resume continued to grow throughout the 80s. However, there were a few films in particular that were very important to Norris. In 1984’s Missing in Action, Norris portrayer a former prisoner of war, who returns to his former prison to free other soldiers being held captive. Norris participated in this film as well as its sequel that was released the following year in honor of his brother, Wieland, who had died in combat.
A Household Name
Chuck was well known to action film fans in the 1970s, but he wasn’t a huge star outside of the martial arts world yet. Although his appeal grew in the 80s, many did not see a big future for Norris in film towards the end of the decade. Therefore, by the early 90s, Norris looked to a different outlet – TV. His fame really skyrocketed with the debut of Walker, Texas Ranger, which was a success that lasted for eight seasons on CBS.
Walker, Texas Ranger was a continuation of Norris previous prerogatives in film. He would use smart martial arts to take down the bad guy. Norris won several awards for his performance as Cordell Walker, and the series won a Primetime Emmy Award. The series was very well-received by audiences and was broadcast in over 100 countries.
Chuck’s Latest Years
In the later years of his career, Chuck Norris wanted to give back to the world of martial arts. He established the World Combat League in 2005 and returned for his last big screen appearance in The Expendables 2 in 2012. Perhaps most notably, Chuck became a meme as jokes that exaggerated his already impressive toughness started to become popular on the internet.
Created His Own Martial Arts Style
The Chuck Norris System, also known as Chun Kuk Do, is a hybrid martial arts style created by Norris. The foundation of the style is based on Chuck’s training in Tang Soo Do. However, Norris has evolved the style to make it more effective and well-rounded. According to the United Fighting Arts Federation, “The Chuck Norris System has come to emphasize self-defense, competition, weapons, grappling, fitness, and more.”
A New York Times Best Seller
Martial arts isn’t just about punching and kicking it’s almost about using your mind and strategically planning your attacks. Well, Norris has used his mind in other ventures as well, such as writing. He has written nine books, two of which have made it to the New York Times best-seller list. Chuck has written about topics such as karate, philosophy, politics and much more.
A Philanthropist At Heart
Norris founded two non-profit organizations: United Fighting Arts Federation and Kickstart Kids. His main tool in both organizations is, of course, martial arts. Norris hopes martial arts can teach at-risk youth the self-esteem and discipline they need to succeed in life. He is also an avid supporter of many other organizations such as United Way and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Chuck Norris Facts
Along with the viral meme came the fad of Chuck Norris facts. Chuck Norris facts are a list of satirical factoids that normally involve hyperbolic claims about Norris. Although Norris didn’t start the craze, he has since endorsed the movement. He said his favorite is that people wanted to add his face to Mount Rushmore, but the granite wasn’t tough enough for his beard.
Chuck had already slowed down his acting output due to family reasons. In 1998, Chuck married wife Gena, who was a former model 23 years his junior. Together, they had twins Dakota Alan and Danilee Kelly in 2001 to go along with Gena’s two children from a previous marriage. Unfortunately, Gena battled health issues toward the later parts of Chuck’s career.
Chuck’s First Marriage
Gena was not Chuck Norris’ first wife. He was previously married to wife Dianne Holechek for three decades, with their relationship leading to the birth of son Eric in 1963. They had a strong marriage that was even able to withstand an extramarital affair of Chuck’s, which gave him his daughter Dina in 1964.
Dina Was A Surprise
Chuck Norris’ daughter, Dina, was the result of an extramarital affair. He actually did not even know she existed until she was 26-years-old. At this time, Dina wrote Chuck a letter stating their relationship. She stated she had known he was her father since she was 16. However, she did not want to interfere with his family. Upon reading the letter, Chuck arranged a meeting and immediately knew she was his daughter.
Serious Health Scare
Gena Norris had always been a very healthy person, but that unfortunately changed in 2013, when she was sent to get an MRI after showing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, while the test showed that Gena didn’t have arthritis, she would instead end up with a problem that was much more serious…one that would change the family’s lives.
Not long before her MRI scan, Gena was administered an injection by her doctor. Unfortunately, her body did not react well to the injection. She said that she felt like her entire body was burning…”as if acid has been passed through it.” She said that the feeling spread quickly from the injection site to the rest of her body.
Under Nurse’s Care
The problem did not stop there, sadly. Gena was in such rough shape that she required 24-hour nursing care, so she had to stay in the hospital. The care period would extend for five months, with Gena being stuck in bed around the clock with an IV connected to her. Gena was concerned that she might not see her kids grow up, while Chuck was dedicated enough to stay by her side at all times.
Many actors would have simply put their careers on hold for a short bit, but Chuck didn’t even think twice about simply abandoning any of his planned projects to be there for his wife. “My whole life right now is about keeping her alive,” he told reporters. He was 100% dedicated to her well-being and had no time for professional concerns.
Continuing Health Problems
The burning pains weren’t the only symptoms that Gena was experiencing after the MRI debacle. In addition, she experienced shaking, weakness and numbness in various parts of her body. She had trouble breathing and suffered kidney and brain troubles. In all, Chuck and Gena claim that their costs to treat her ailments has surpassed $2 million.
A Terrible Change
In a very unfortunate turn of events, Gena’s medical issues made her into what seemed like a completely different person. She said that while she was vibrant and energetic in the past, the medical setbacks had taken their toll. She called the problems “a vicious, ugly secret” that she was no longer willing to keep for the medical industry.
Taking Legal Action
Finally, the Norrises decided that it was time to take legal action in 2017. Four years after the problems began, Gena and Chuck sued various healthcare firms for Gena’s health troubles. They stated that gadolinium, a metal used during the MRI procedure, had caused all of Gena’s health problems. They alleged that Gena had become stricken with gadolinium deposition disease.
Chuck and Gena say that they were never warned by any doctors of the risks of the procedure. As a result, they are seeking over $10 million in compensation for damages and costs incurred since the event. They have also gone out to the public to raise awareness of the problem. Attorney Todd Walburg, who is representing the couple, said that other clients had filed similar lawsuits in the past.
The Medical Industry Responds
In response to the ongoing problem, the American Society of Neuroradiology and American College of Radiology issued a statement in 2016 to defend gadolinium as a tool for providing doctors with the visibility they need from MRIs. They said that over 300 million patients around the world have been exposed to gadolinium safely.
Doesn’t Want To Scare People
With this new lawsuit, the medical industry is worried that people will back out of life-saving tests. However, that is not what Gena and Chuck are hoping to do. Gena just wants people to be aware of the risks. She told CBS, “For all those people that are thinking about getting an MRI, there needs to be some stricter warnings.” Furthermore, she said if she knew the risks, she would have never agreed to the injections.
Not The First Time
The facts are not so clear when it comes to gadolinium, however. Some research has found that contrast agents can remain in the body. In fact, a 2006 study found deposits that remained in the tissue of a number of patients that were afflicted with kidney diseases. After the deposits stayed in their bodies, they contracted nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.
Misdiagnosis Due To The Chemical
Gena isn’t the first person who has had some severe side effects to the drug. The couple’s attorney, Todd Walburg, told CBS, “We have clients who have been misdiagnosed with Lyme disease, ALS, and then they’ve eventually ruled all those things out and the culprit remaining is the gadolinium.” All of these misdiagnoses could have been avoided with more restrictions.
The FDA Investigates
Gadolinium was also investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said that it failed to find enough proof that gadolinium retention was a problem that led to serious health effects. Still, the FDA did decide to label warnings for gadolinium to let patients know that the contrast agent could end up staying in their bodies.
Gena Won’t Give Up
The Norris family is certainly not giving up. Gena most recently stated that they are continuing their litigation against the medical companies that they dealt with. She said that the family hopes to expose a problem that has not been faced by the pharmaceutical companies responsible for gadolinium. She also wants to offer a voice to others who have been affected like she has.
Road To Recovery
Luckily, Gena’s condition has improved. She is no longer bed-ridden and can mostly live the life that she was used to before the problem, although she has to receive treatments for some of the symptoms to this day. She says that although she never wanted a court battle, she feels that she needs to take a stand against this type of occurrence.