Chuck Norris — 10 Facts About The Star Of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER
For many viewers – especially those of us who grew up in the VHS Era – Chuck Norris is the face of the action genre. As John Wayne is to Westerns, Norris is synonymous with a distinctly American variation on the Asian martial arts films that exploded in popularity during the 1970s. His was the name many of us looked for when we scanned the shelves of our local video stores back in the day. And he rarely disappointed, because Chuck Norris movies had one thing very few American action films had: a world champion athlete as the star.
So it was pretty big news when Norris decided to kick off a television career in 1993. And it was even bigger news when Walker, Texas Ranger became a hit for nine years. If you love the Norris cinematic kick-em-ups of the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, Walker will feel delightfully familiar: a bad guy does something evil, Walker pursues, and they end up in foot-to-face combat. Who knew so many Texans could do karate?!
If you watched the show in its original run, you know exactly what we mean. If you didn’t, your second chance has arrived: Walker, Texas Ranger is now on getTV six days each week, Monday through Friday at 2 pm ET and Sundays at 5 pm. Here are some fun facts about the action icon:
1. He almost died as a baby.
Wilma Norris was just 18 years old when she gave birth to the baby who would grow up to be Chuck Norris. According to his memoir Against All Odds: My Story, Norris’ mom endured an exhausting seven days of labor, during which doctors feared for her life and his. Norris was not breathing on his own when he was born on March 10, 1940 and had to be monitored in intensive care for the first five days. “Wilma’s baby probably isn’t going to live,” his grandmother wrote in a letter that week. He beat the odds, because he’s Chuck Norris!
2. He was a shy kid.
Chuck Norris – real name Carlos Ray Norris – was named after Rev. Carlos Berry, the family’s minister in Ryan, Oklahoma. As a child, Chuck and his family moved frequently. “In school I was shy and inhibited,” he wrote in his memoir. “If the teacher asked me to recite something aloud in front of the class, I would just shake my head no.” His weekly escape was at the movies, where he’d spend Saturday afternoons watching cowboy stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. “Years later, I would recall those Western heroes when I developed the character I wanted to play,” he wrote.
3. Norris learned martial arts in the Air Force.
On Walker, Texas Ranger, Cordell Walker was inspired by the murder of his parents to become a lawman. Similarly, Chuck Norris used his shyness as a motivation to pursue strength and confidence through martial arts. While stationed at Osan Air base in the late 1950s, Norris studied tang soo do, a style of Korean karate that uses the feet and open hands as weapons. He earned a first-degree black belt in tang soo do and a third-degree brown belt in judo and became a sought-after instructor for his fellow soldiers.
4. He had famous students.
Norris was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1962 and planned to transition to a career in law enforcement. No positions were available, so he began teaching karate in an L.A. suburb. His proximity to Hollywood made him a popular celebrity instructor and, over the next 15 years, his students would include: Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and David Canary from NBC’s Western series Bonanza; game show host Bob Barker; Elvis Presley’s wife Priscilla Presley; Oscar-nominated actor Steve McQueen; and the Osmond family. Norris even did a karate routine with student Donny Osmond on the first episode of The Donny And Marie Show.
5. His first opponent in a movie was Dean Martin.
Norris met Bruce Lee at a karate competition at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1967, and the two martial artists became friends. When Lee was hired as fight coordinator for the James Bond spoof The Wrecking Crew (1968), he gave Norris his first acting role. Chuck played a bouncer who confiscates the gun of secret agent Matt Helm (Dean Martin), then fights him. Norris and Martin planned out the scene, but Dean forgot to duck – and was knocked across the room by Chuck’s kick. Martin shook it off and went on to beat Norris in the film. “I may have been a champion karate expert,” Norris wrote. “But Dean was Matt Helm.”
6. He was a karate champion.
Norris began competing professionally in 1964, initially to drum up business for his karate schools. He won the World Professional Middle–weight Karate Champion title in 1968 and held it for six consecutive years, until age 34. Chuck retired from competition in 1974 with a record of 183–10–2 and was named fighter of the year by Blackbelt Magazine.
7. He started his career as an action star at age 37 – and was coached by Steve McQueen.
After Bruce Lee cast Norris as his opponent in The Way Of The Dragon (1972), student Steve McQueen suggested that Chuck pursue a career in acting. He scored his first lead role in the trucker film Breaker! Breaker! (1977) and used the money he earned to develop what would become his big break: Good Guys Wear Black (1978). McQueen saw the film and coached Norris to say less, do more, and “put as much of yourself into the character as possible.” Norris wrote that he’s been following that advice ever since.
8. Missing In Action was inspired by his brother.
After Good Guys Wear Black (1978), A Force Of One (1979) and The Octagon (1980) earned more than $100 million, Norris was on his way to superstardom. Next came An Eye For An Eye (1981), Silent Rage (1982), Forced Vengeance (1982) and Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), each more successful than the last. In 1984 Norris wanted to do a film about M.I.A. soldiers in memory of his younger brother Wieland Norris, who had been killed in action in Vietnam. Cannon Films agreed to produce the movie, which became Missing In Action (1984). Two sequels followed in 1985 and 1988. It was the beginning of a long partnership with Cannon, which continued until Walker, Texas Ranger.
9. There was a Chuck Norris cartoon.
In September of 1986, Norris lent his voice to an animated mini-series from Ruby-Spears Productions. Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos featured Norris as a government agent leading a team of peacemakers against V.U.L.T.U.R.E. (what the initials stood for was never explained, but it sounded scary). Norris also appeared in each episode in the flesh – literally, usually shirtless in the gym – to share life lessons and show off sweet karate moves. Five episodes aired in syndication, accompanied by a toy line from Kenner and a Marvel comic.
10. Walker, Texas Ranger was a family affair.
Norris was offered the lead role in Walker, Texas Ranger while filming Hellbound in 1992. He agreed, and his Hellbound costar Sheree J. Wilson was cast as his (eventual) love interest. Chuck would become co-executive producer on Walker along with his brother Aaron Norris, who had directed Delta Force 2 (1990), The Hitman (1991), and Sidekicks (1992). Chuck’s son Eric Norris was a stunt coordinator and director on the series. And his son Mike Norris acted in eight episodes and the 2005 reunion film Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial By Fire.
11. Bonus! Chuck Norris has a new generation of fans.
According to Time Magazine, Chuck has become an “online cult hero” as the subject of popular Internet memes featuring hilariously hyperbolic claims about his strength and abilities. Norris even joined in the fun as co-writer of The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book, proving that Chuck Norris can truly do everything.
Starting June 4, Walker, Texas Ranger airs weekdays from 2-6 pm ET and Sundays 5-10 pm ET. For more, visit the getTV schedule.