WALKER, TEXAS RANGER — 10 Facts About The Action Series Starring Chuck Norris
It’s Chuck Norris’ world, we just live in it. If you have any doubt about that, just look at Walker, Texas Ranger. In 1993, after two decades as an action film icon, Norris conquered television with a hit series that would go on to score high ratings for eight years. And he did it all on the north side of age 50. Because he’s Chuck Norris.
You can see what we mean seven days a week on getTV! Five episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger air weekdays beginning at 12 pm ET, with three more Saturday and Sunday evenings starting at 7 pm ET! What better way to drop-kick the end-of-weekend blues than with the business end of Chuck Norris’ cowboy boot?
Sergeant Cordell Walker is a Dallas-based lawman who prefers fists to firearms. Like most of Norris’ characters, he’s a peacemaker who only uses force when necessary. Clarence Gilyard (Top Gun, Matlock) plays Jimmy Trivette, a former pro football player partnered with Walker after a career-ending injury. Noble Willingham (Good Morning Vietnam, Home Improvement) is C.D. Parker, a retired ranger who operates the local watering hole. And Sheree J. Wilson (Dallas) is Alex Cahill, an assistant district attorney who sometimes frowns on Walker’s methods but is usually susceptible to his charms.
Added for later seasons are fellow rangers Sydney Cooke (Nia Peeples) and Francis Gage (Judson Mills), Detective Carlos Sandoval (Marco Sanchez), and private detective Trent Malloy (James Wlcek). The series also weaves rich tapestry of supporting characters, including Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman as the uncle who raised Walker, and a steady stream of film and TV icons including James Drury (The Virginian), Rod Taylor (The Birds), and Robert Fuller (Emergency).
Here are some fun facts about a series that aired its final episode 20 years ago, but remains as butt-kicking as ever!
1. Chuck Norris and the character Cordell Walker are both part Native American.
Chuck Norris was born Carlos Ray Norris in Ryan, Oklahoma in 1940 to an Irish mother and a Cherokee father. “There were taunts by kids about being a half-breed,” he told The New York Times in 1993. Walker shares a similar origin story, with a far more tragic ending. His parents were violently murdered in front of him when he was a child, a tale he recounts to an abused teenager in the pilot episode.
2. Bruce Lee gave Chuck Norris his big break.
Norris made his film debut in a small role in the The Wrecking Crew (1968), a spy spoof starring Dean Martin. But his first role of substance came in The Way Of The Dragon (1973), written and directed by martial arts master Bruce Lee. Norris plays a villain who battles Lee’s Dragon character in a climatic fight scene staged in the actual, historic Roman colosseum. Norris again played a bad guy in his next film Yellow Faced Tiger (1974). His first heroic leading role was the trucker action film Breaker! Breaker! (1977).
3. Walker, Texas Ranger is based on a movie. But not officially.
Walker was an original creation of screenwriters Leslie Greif (Hatfields And McCoys) and Oscar-winner Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby). But the series was clearly influenced by Lone Wolf McQuade, a 1983 Orion Pictures release that Norris credits for transforming him into a “more mainstream action star.” Like Walker, McQuade is set in Texas, stars Norris as a lone ranger reluctantly teamed with a younger agent, and features a grizzled, retired partner (L.Q. Jones) who provides off-the-record assistance for our hero. McQuade cast members L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, and William Sanderson all make guest appearances on Walker.
4. Chuck Norris and Sheree J. Wilson also co-starred in a movie.
Chuck Norris and Sheree J. Wilson also co-starred in the supernatural action film Hellbound (1994). It’s probably best remembered today as one of the final releases of the legendary Cannon Films, the studio that rode Chuck Norris’ black belt to blockbuster success in the 1980s. Cannon’s TV division produced the first three episodes of Walker, but abruptly shut down just days before the show’s premiere. CBS stepped in, and the series returned with new episodes after a four-month break. The director of Hellbound was Chuck’s younger brother Aaron Norris, who also an executive producer of the series and directed three episodes.
5. The series was filmed on-location in Texas.
While most primetime network shows are filmed in Los Angeles or New York, Walker, Texas Ranger was shot on location in Texas (primarily in and around Dallas). Norris’s actual residence doubled as his character’s home, and the sense of place and local flavor is a big part of the show’s appeal. Surprisingly, Noble Willingham is the only native Texan in the principal cast, though Norris was named an honorary Texan by the state senate. Chuck and Aaron were also declared honorary Rangers in 2010 by Governor Rick Perry.
6. Chuck Norris sang the theme song.
In addition to appearing in every episode, Norris was an executive producer of Walker. He also wrote six episodes and even sang the show’s theme song “Eyes Of A Ranger.” In addition, he was creator and executive producer of Sons Of Thunder, a 1999 spin-off series starring Marco Sanchez and James Wlcek.
7. Noble Willingham ran for Congress.
Willingham left the series midway through the second-to-last season to run for Congress. In 2000, he was the Republican challenger in the Texas 1st congressional district against Democratic congressman Max Sandlin. Willingham received 43.4% of the votes and lost to the incumbent’s 55.8%.
8. There were novels.
At the height of the show’s popularity in 1999, Berkley Publishing Group released three Walker novels: Walker, Texas Ranger; Hell’s Half Acre; and Seige On The Belle. All were written by James Reasoner and are now, sadly, out of print. But we imagine they included lots of phonetic sound effects like “twack.”
9. Walker went out on top.
Unlike many shows that are initially successful and slowly decline in popularity, the audience for Walker actually grew as the series aged. It had higher ratings in its sixth season than in the first three. Even in its final season, the series was still drawing more than ten million viewers per week – numbers that would be considered huge today. But Norris himself chose to hang up his boots. “You always want to try to quit as a winner,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2001.
10. Where are they now?
Chuck Norris, co-starred in The Expendables 2 (2012) and made an appearance on the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs in 2015. He’s co-written four books, including Against All Odds: My Story (2004) and two novels. Sheree J. Wilson produced and starred in Easy Rider 2: The Ride Home (2012) and co-starred with Clarence Gilyard in a national tour of Driving Miss Daisy. Gilyard got his master’s degree, taught theater at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and hosted the PBS series artScene. Nia Peeples has been a cast member on The Young And The Restless, Pretty Little Liars, and The Fosters. Judson Mills was seen recently on The Mentalist and HBO’s Westworld. Marco Sanchez has a recurring role on NCIS. James Wlcek recently appeared in the horror film Howlers. Noble Willingham returned to acting after his run for Congress, appearing in the films South Of Heaven, West Of Hell (2000), and Blind Horizon (2003). He died in 2004 at age 72.
11. Bonus! Walker returned.
After the series concluded its nine-season run in 2001, Norris, Wilson, and Judson Mills returned for the 2005 TV movie Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial By Fire. (Gilyard made a cameo appearance.) The film ended with a cliffhanger that, to date, has not been resolved. But if we know anything about Chuck Norris, we know this: it’s never too late.