Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris (born March 10, 1940) is an American martial artist, action star, Hollywood actor, and recently, an internet phenomenon.
A native of Ryan, Oklahoma, Norris has two younger brothers, Wieland and Aaron Norris, the latter of whom is a Hollywood producer. Norris was born to an alcoholic father, half Irish and half Cherokee. Norris’s mother is also half Irish and half Cherokee. Norris is very proud of his Native American heritage, and frequently referred to his origins on his hit show Walker, Texas Ranger. When Norris was ten, his parents divorced and he later relocated to Prairie Village, Kansas and then Torrance, California with his mother and brothers. Norris describes his childhood as downbeat. He was non-athletic, shy, and scholastically mediocre. Other children taunted him about his mixed ethnicity, and Norris daydreamed about beating up his tormentors. Norris mentioned in his autobiography that his father had a very serious problem with drinking and “wasn’t there” a lot for him growing up. Norris admitted that he loved his father but did not like him. However, he professed that he only felt pity for the man because “that was just how he was, and he missed so much.”
Chuck Norris finished high school and soon married his girlfriend, Diane Holechek. In 1958 Norris joined the United States Air Force as a Air Policeman and was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea. It was in South Korea that Norris acquired the nickname Chuck and began his training in Tang Soo Do, an interest that would lead to black belts in that art, as well as Tae Kwon Do, and Shito ryu Karate, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; and the founding of the Chun Kuk Do (“Universal Way”) form and the education associations United Fighting Arts Federation and “KickStart”, formerly “Kick Drugs Out of America”, a middle school– and high school–based program intended to give at-risk children a focus point in life through the martial arts. When he returned to the United States he continued to act as an AP at March Air Force Base California. Norris was discharged in August of 1962. He worked for the Northrop Corporation and opened a chain of karate schools, which Chad McQueen, Steve McQueen’s son, attended. Chuck made history in 1997 when he was the first Westerner in the documented history of Taekwondo to be given the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt Grand Master. On July 1, 2000 he was presented the Golden Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.
Currently, Norris lives in Dallas and owns a ranch between Navasota, Texas and Anderson, Texas. He works for KickStart, which is located in Dallas and Houston.
Chuck’s entrance into tournament karate began on a losing note. He was defeated in his first two tournaments, dropping decisions to Joe Lewis and Allan Steen. However, by 1967, Norris began to demonstrate his skill and scored victories over the likes of Joe Lewis, Skipper Mullins, Arnold Urquidez, Victor Moore, Ron Marchini, and Steve Sanders. In early 1968, Chuck suffered the fifth and last loss of his career, losing an upset decision to Louis Delgado. However, on November 24, 1968, Chuck avenged his defeat to Delgado and in the process won the Professional Middleweight Karate champion (non-contact) title, which he held for six consecutive years. In 1969, he won Karate’s triple crown for the most tournament wins of the year, and the fighter of the year award by Black Belt Magazine. It was also in 1969 that Norris made his acting debut, in the Dean Martin movie The Wrecking Crew.
In 1970, his younger brother Weiland was killed in Vietnam. Norris later dedicated his Missing in Action films to his brother’s memory.
At a martial arts demonstration in Long Beach, Norris met the soon-to-be famous martial artist Bruce Lee. In 1972, he acted as Bruce Lee’s nemesis in the movie Way of the Dragon (also known as Return of the Dragon), which is widely credited with launching his way into stardom. In Asia, he is still known primarily for this role.
In 1974, McQueen encouraged him to begin acting classes at MGM. Chuck Norris retired with a karate record of 65–5, having avenged all of his defeats.
Norris’ first starring role was 1977’s Breaker! Breaker!, and subsequent films such as The Octagon (1980), An Eye for an Eye (1981), and Lone Wolf McQuade proved his increasing box office bankability. In 1984, Norris starred in Missing in Action, the first of a series of POW rescue fantasies produced by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and released under their Cannon Films banner. Also in that year, he was offered the part of the sensei of the Kobra Kai dojo in the movie The Karate Kid, but declined the part. He reportedly did not want to take part in depicting martial artists in an unfavorable light. However, Norris disputes this story. On a February 9, 2006 episode of Adam Corolla’s radio show, Norris said that he was never offered the role. Norris noted that he was already playing leading roles by the time The Karate Kid was in production.
Over the next four years, Norris became Cannon’s most prominent star, appearing in eight films, including Code of Silence, The Delta Force, and Firewalker, in which he co-starred with Academy Award winner Louis Gossett, Jr..
In 1986, he was involved in the production of the Ruby Spears cartoon Karate Kommandos.
Blackbelt Magazine’s 1968 Karate Player of the Year
Blackbelt Magazine’s 1975 Karate Instructor of the Year
Blackbelt Magazine’s 1977 Man of the Year
Blackbelt Magazine’s 1979 Fighting Star Editor’s Award