Chuck Norris has been a mainstay on movie and television screens for nearly 50 years. From fighting against Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon to rustlin’ up bad guys as Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris has been a pop culture icon for decades now. However, that changed very quickly when Chuck decided to retire from acting.
A Surprising Decision
Even in more recent years, Chuck Norris has been so successful that it would seem like a waste for him to simply stop acting in movies and television shows. However, there comes a time in every person’s life when they may have to step out of the limelight to deal with a more pressing issue. That was the case when Chuck felt the need to retire.
He Wasn’t Always Chuck
Chuck Norris is a household name these days, but the action star didn’t always go by that famous moniker. In fact, for the many early years of his life, he was known as Carlos Ray Norris. He was born in 1940 and didn’t pick up the nickname “Chuck” until he served in the U.S. Air Force as a young adult.
He Grew Up In Poverty
Chuck Norris’ father wasn’t always around, and by the time he was little, his mother was the families’ main caretaker. Chuck acted as a father figure for his two younger brothers. During an interview with Biography, Chuck said, his mother never let their financial situation affect her happiness, and she would say “we may be poor, but we’re rich in love.”
Wanted To Be A Police Officer
Chuck Norris didn’t always want to be an action star. As a child, he had other dreams. He wanted to be a police officer. Therefore, when he joined the military, he joined the ranks of the Air Force police. No one could have expected what would come out of his service.
Began Teaching Others In His Backyard
After the military, Chuck began working in an aircraft factory. However, it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Therefore, he began teaching karate in his mom’s backyard. “Everybody was down on it because they didn’t know what karate was about, but he [Chuck] was determined,” said Chuck’s mom to Biography. Chuck eventually fell in love with teaching and decided to make that his career.
When his time in the Air Force ended, Chuck wanted to focus on fighting. After failing to win his first three tournaments, he turned the corner in 1966, winning the National Karate Championship and the All-Star Championships, too. That was when Chuck Norris first became a big name in the martial arts world.
Didn’t Begin Tournaments For The Fame
Norris didn’t begin competing in tournaments for the fame. However, he was looking for some recognition. He began participating in local tournaments. By possibly winning some of these tournaments, he hoped to gain a few more students. However, he won so many that he became a staple in the sport and grew from local champion to world champion.
Legend In The Sport
From the late 1960s on, Chuck Norris cemented his legacy as a legend in full contact karate. His record has been listed at 65-5 at the time that he retired in 1974. His losses were to Allen Steen, Joe Lewis, and Louis Delgado. When he retired in 1974, he was the professional full-contact karate middleweight champion.
Moving On To Acting
With his time as an active competitor done, Chuck Norris decided that it was time to move on to the next phase of his life. Many famous actors, including Steve McQueen, used to train at Chuck Norris’ karate studio. It was actually McQueen that gave Norris the push to get into acting, as he thought Chuck would be a natural fit for it.
His Big Break
Chuck decided to give acting a try and got his first role when he appeared in The Wrecking Crew in 1968. It was a good start, and it led to even bigger things, including a fight scene with none other than Bruce Lee himself. They faced off in the Roman Colosseum in Way of the Dragon, launching Chuck into a career as an action star.
The Fight Scene Was Ad Libbed
Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris trained together in the late 1960s and became close friends. When Bruce Lee was starring in a new movie, he knew he had to get Chuck on board. Lee had envisioned a fight scene unlike any other that would stand the test of time. The scene lasted longer than many of his others as well as was not dominated by Lee. The fight wasn’t actually predesigned until Lee and Chuck decided to film it.
Time To Be A Star
It was in 1977 that Chuck Norris finally got the chance to star in a film instead of simply appearing as a side attraction. In Breaker! Breaker!, Chuck played a truck driver who was searching for his lost brother in a corrupt town. The film wasn’t a huge hit, but it was enough to catapult him to bigger and better things.
Good Guys Wear Black
Chuck Norris considers his first “real” film to be 1978’s Good Guys Wear Black. In that film, he had to learn much more dialogue, and he had a much bigger cast, crew, and budget to work with. However, movie studios weren’t high on the film when it was finished. The cast and crew actually rented theaters around the country to show the film themselves, earning almost $17 million in the process.
Sign Of Things To Come
The world first saw Chuck Norris as a Texas Ranger back in 1983, when he played J.J. McQuade in Lone Wolf McQuade. The movie was not only a fan favorite but also was pretty well received by critics. Even Roger Ebert himself thought that the film could easily become a hit series. Years later, Norris would maintain that it was one of his favorite films ever.
Playing A P.O.W.
Chuck Norris’ next big role was that of a prisoner of war in 1984’s Missing In Action. The film was particularly close to Norris’ heart because his brother, Wieland, died in combat. In the film, Norris played a former prisoner of war who, like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character, returns to the military prison to free the rest of the captive soldiers.
“Toughest Thing I’ve Ever Encountered In My Life”
Chuck and his brother Weiland were extremely close. Weiland decided to join the military and he was sent to Vietnam. After being deployed for 4 months, Weiland was killed in action. “That was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life, was his death,” Chuck told Biography.
Making The Switch
As the 1980s came to a close, it wasn’t clear just what Chuck Norris was going to do. Younger martial arts stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme had taken over the industry and Chuck wasn’t getting any younger. However, Norris was smart enough to move into a different area: television. He took the lead role in Walker, Texas Ranger, which would turn out to be the defining move of his career.
Didn’t Originally Want To Do TV
Before Walker, Texas Ranger Chuck didn’t want a career in TV. However, the synopsis for this series changed his mind. He decided that if he was ever going to do a TV series, this was the type of series he was going to do. Luckily, for Norris fans everywhere, he changed his mind about TV and signed on to play the legendary Cordell Walker.
That’s Where The Ranger’s Gonna Be
The show Walker, Texas Ranger outperformed all expectations, as fans couldn’t get enough of the soft-spoken Ranger who dealt with bad guys using fists (and feet) of fury. It was far and away Norris’ most popular role, and the show would go on to last for eight seasons. It has been broadcasted in over 100 nations around the world!
Co-Stars Were A Family
Viewers and the cast alike were not happy to see Walker, Texas Ranger go off the air. However, the actors in the series were happy to have had the opportunity. During an interview with Biography, Clarence Gilyard Jr., who played James Trivette, said: “it trickles down from Chuck, we’ve developed a family environment.” Luckily, the cast had a chance for a reunion a few years later.
Co-Stars Weren’t The Only Family On The Show
After spending so many years together, the Walker, Texas Ranger cast and crew became like family. However, some of these crew members were actually family. Several episodes of the series were directed by Chuck’s family members. His brother Aaron directed four episodes, his son Eric directed five episodes, and his other son Eric directed 17 episodes!
Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire
When the series ended in 2001, fans yearned for more. It took a few years, but their prayers were answered with “Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire.” The film included all the action from the series plus more. The story, of course, involved Walker defeating the bad guys and lots of great fight scenes. The film debuted on TV in October 2005.
Time To Give Back
Chuck Norris never forgot about the martial arts and how it had helped him not only become a better, more disciplined person but also launched his film and television career. In 2005, he debuted the World Combat League in the hopes of giving young fighters a chance to shine. He still found the time to act, too, appearing in The Expendables 2 in 2012.
World Combat League
The World Combat League is unlike any other fighting competition that has ever happened. It was a full-contact fighting league. Competitors would fight in two 3-minute rounds. Therefore, this would encourage fighters to go their hardest for the full 3 minutes in order to score as many points as possible. Chuck uses the profits from the league to help fund his charities.
Fighting, Chuck Norris Style
Many notable martial artists eventually establish their own fighting style, and Chuck Norris was no exception. He created Chun Kuk Do, or The Chuck Norris System, as a hybrid martial arts style based on Tang Soo Do. The style kept elements from Tang Soo Do and added effective elements from other arts to “emphasize self-defense, competition, weapons, grappling, fitness, and more.”
Many people were curious about the long career of Chuck Norris, and he obliged them by writing “Against All Odds,” his autobiography. Chuck has also written other books, including a number of others about karate, politics, and other subjects. He has written nine books total and been on the New York Times bestseller list two times.
Working With The Youth
In addition to his other interests, Chuck Norris is very much into working with children. He started the United Fighting Arts Federation and Kickstart Kids to work with children. Norris is a big believer that martial arts can help at-risk kids avoid temptations and build discipline. He has also worked with United Way and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Teamed Up With President Bush
The backstory of his charity “Kickstart Kids” is not what you may expect. Norris was having lunch with former President George H.W. Bush at the White House, and Bush asked him if he had any future goals outside of entertainment. Norris explained to Bush that he would like to start teaching martial arts to kids in inner-city schools. Bush thought it was a great idea and helped implement Norris’ plan.
Went Skydiving With Bush
Former President George H.W. Bush and Norris’ relationship went beyond charity work. They were actually very good friends. Therefore, when Bush decided he wanted to go skydiving on his 80th birthday, he knew he needed Chuck by his side. Chuck was very hesitant at first. However, after practicing the motions several times he felt comfortable, and he jumped out of a plane with former President Bush.
Becoming A Meme
Although many memes make light of celebrity sayings or catchphrases, Chuck Norris was the first person to actually become a meme. The notorious Chuck Norris facts were jokes that embellished Chuck’s already impressive resume and toughness. For instance, one popular joke stated that “When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.”
Close Calls On Set
Chuck Norris is not like most actors as he can do many of his own stunts. However, there was one time where the stunt went too far, and he feared for his life. During an interview with Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson, Chuck said while filming “Missing in Action,” one stunt went wrong. He was holding onto a ladder that was hanging from a helicopter. He was only supposed to be lifted three feet off the water. He was lifted much higher as the pilot was not informed of the plan. Chuck thought he might die if he fell.
A New Partner
Chuck Norris was married to his first wife, Dianne, for nearly 30 years. Chuck married Dianne when he was only 18-years-old. Therefore, he had a partner most of his adult life. When the divorce happened, he felt lonely and like something was missing. However, his best friend had the answer.
Introduced To Gena
“My best friend just realized that I had a hole in my heart. I really did,” Norris told Biography. “I was living a very fast-paced life, not really a constructive life, even though I was successful in the film world and financially successful… He still saw an emptiness in my heart.” His best friend explained that he felt an emptiness because he didn’t have a soulmate. Chuck brushed him off but agreed to meet a woman his friend thought would be perfect for him.
They Met At A Sushi Restaurant
One night Chuck was at a sushi restaurant with some friends and family, when a woman walked in. He noticed her immediately. “I was very nervous that night,” Gena told Biography. “I didn’t know what to expect.” Chuck was taken back by her beauty, calling her “an angel.” Gena didn’t know much about Chuck as she didn’t watch much TV, but she feels that was an advantage.
He Wasn’t Looking To Get Married
When Chuck first met Gena, marriage was not on his mind. He had dated several other women before Gena and never felt enough of a connection to make it official. When Gena first came along, his sentiment did not change. He knew it would be an amazing relationship. However, he never expected to marry her. We guess Chuck Norris can be wrong sometimes.
A Strange Proposal
After dating for some time, Chuck had decided that he wanted to marry Gena. At this time, he was still filming Walker, Texas Ranger, and he only received four days off around Thanksgiving. “That’s the only time I have for us to get married… Can you do it [plan a wedding] in six weeks?” he said to Gena. Her response: “I haven’t even said yes yet.” Chuck then asked her formally to marry him. Of course, she said yes.
Building A Family
In 1998, Chuck Norris had already decided to slow down his career and focus on his family. That’s when he married his wife Gena, a former model 23 years younger than him. The couple became parents together in 2001 when twins Dakota Alan and Danilee Kelly were born. Chuck also helped raise Gena’s two kids from a previous marriage.
His Twins Were The Reason Walker, Texas Ranger Ended
In 2000, the network wanted to continue Walker, Texas Ranger with two more seasons. However, around the same time, Norris discovered his wife was pregnant with twins. “I knew I couldn’t do a series and take care of my wife during her pregnancy. So, I knew it was time to call an end to it,” Norris said in an interview with Biography.
Lucky In Love
Chuck Norris has been a lucky man when it comes to love. Even before Gena, he was fortunate enough to meet wife Dianne Holechek, who he would stay married to for three decades. They had two children together, Eric and Mike, and even remained together when Chuck fathered a daughter, Dina, with another woman in 1964. That’s quite a marriage.
A Twist In The Road
Life can throw some crazy twists at you, but there was nothing quite like when Chuck Norris found out that he had a daughter in 1990. That’s when 26-year-old Dina contacted Chuck for the first time. She said she knew he was her father for ten years before that, but didn’t want to mess up his family. Chuck arranged a meeting with her and quickly knew that she was his daughter after all.
Years later, Gena Norris and Chuck were very happily married. Unfortunately, things would become difficult in 2013, when she first began to experience some health troubles. It all started off innocently enough, as she underwent an MRI exam to diagnose whether she had arthritis. The test was negative but surprisingly led to some serious complications nonetheless.
What’s Going On?
As part of the MRI exam, Gena Norris was administered an injection that would help the machine better view her body for potential problems. However, she appeared to have an adverse reaction to the injection right away. She reported feeling as if her whole body was burning. She compared the feeling to having acid pass through her veins and under her skin.
Fighting For Love
What was more worrisome is that the problem simply wasn’t going away. In fact, Gena required around-the-clock nursing supervision for five months, when she was bed-ridden. She had an IV connected to her all the time and couldn’t live a normal life. She was secretly worried about her long-term future, but Chuck was there by her side every minute of every day.
A Whole New Focus
When the medical issues persisted, Chuck Norris was ready to fight right alongside his wife. He addressed the problems with the same tenacity that he did his martial arts and movie careers. He abandoned any planned projects and focused on Gena 100%. “My whole life right now is about keeping her alive,” he said in one interview.
Gena’s Health Worsens
Sadly, Gena’s health wasn’t getting any better. If anything, it was getting even worse. She started to have shakes and experience weakness and numbness throughout her body. Other complications included labored breathing and kidney troubles. She also had trouble with her cognitive functions. When it was all said and done, the costs to treat the medical problems skyrocketed to over $2 million.
Like A Different Person
As many people who have observed loved ones going through medical difficulties can tell you, the one suffering from the problems can end up being like a different person entirely. This was the case with Gena, who went from a vibrant, energetic woman to a tired, depressed person. To Gena, the problems were “a vicious, ugly secret” that she would no longer hide.
When 2017 came, the Norris family was ready to strike back. Gena had been experiencing health problems for four years, and Chuck and Gena decided to take them to task. They sued various healthcare companies, alleging that gadolinium, the substance in the injection provided before the MRI, had caused Gena’s problems by giving her gadolinium deposition disease.
According to Chuck and Gena Norris, they were never made aware of any potential risks or complications before the procedure was done. They decided to seek over $10 million in damages and costs due to Gena’s health complications. They have also been outspoken in the media, taking every opportunity to warn others of potential dangers.
An Ongoing Issue?
Before the Norrises filed suit in 2017, the American Society of Neuroradiology and American College of Radiology issued a joint statement in 2016 regarding the potential dangers of gadolinium. They indicated that over 300 million patients worldwide had successfully been through gadolinium injections and maintained that the substance was needed to provide visibility during MRIs.
Strict Warnings Needed
Chuck and Gena have been very quick to point out that they aren’t trying to convince people not to seek out medical care. However, they do want doctors to be more up-front about the potential risks of gadolinium and other substances. “For all those people that are thinking about getting an MRI, there needs to be some stricter warnings,” Gena said.
Other Patients Had Problems
Other patients besides Gena Norris have had problems due to gadolinium injections in the past. In fact, during 2006 a study found that gadolinium deposits could remain in the tissue of patients, sometimes causing kidney diseases when the deposits remained for some time. Researchers have determined before that contrast agents can remain in the body.
Not His First Rodeo
For their attorney, Chuck and Gena Norris hired Todd Walburg, who has worked with patients harmed by gadolinium injections in the past. Walburg said that gadolinium side effects often lead to misdiagnoses. “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,” he said.
What The FDA Said
Even the Food and Drug Administration has looked into gadolinium and its potentially harmful side effects. However, the FDA found that side effects from gadolinium retention were not common or severe enough to keep it from being used. The FDA did order label warnings to make patients aware of potential side effects, however.
Not Giving Up The Fight
Recently, Gena Norris gave an update on what will certainly be a long legal battle. She said that they are continuing to take action against the medical companies responsible. She also added that they hope to make the problem more well-known and ensure that pharmaceutical companies take responsibility for the harm caused to those like her.
Gena’s Doing Better
In the meantime, Gena is more or less her old self again. She has seen improvements in her health and can live her usual life, although she still receives treatments for some of the adverse side effects she experienced. She is quick to point out that she never wanted a court battle, but she doesn’t feel like she can let an issue like this go. Surely, Chuck feels the same way.
Feels The Country Needs A Change Too
The medical industry isn’t the only thing Norris hopes to change. Norris also wants to see more love and peace within the U.S. “The hatefulness that is going on in our country has got to stop,” he said in an interview with Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson. “It’s not helpful for the future of our country, and it bothers me a lot.”