There are few actors more iconic than Chuck Norris, at least when it comes to stunts, martial arts, and through-and-through badass films.
Over the years, the 82-year-old Oklahoma native has featured in around 40 films, and it wasn’t long into his acting career that he got his big breakthrough.
Chuck has had two long marriages; his second one is still going strong today. Moreover, he is a loving father to five children.
Recently, though, he shared some rather troubling news regarding the health of his wife.
Let’s take a closer look at Chuck Norris’ career and life.
Chuck Norris was born on March 10, 1940, in Ryan, Oklahoma. The oldest of three boys, when describing himself as a young kid, he said he was “the shy kid who never excelled at anything in school.”
But in fact, Norris’ childhood was quite tumultuous. His father was a heavy drinker, and when Chuck was just age 10, he suddenly disappeared, leaving his mother, Wilma, all by herself. She singlehandedly raised Chuck and his two siblings, but by the time Chuck Norris had turned 15, the family had moved 16 times. Ultimately, they settled in California.
Now, Wilma was a devoted Christian, and ensured that Chuck and his brothers – Wieland and Arron – went to church wherever they lived. As a result, Norris developed a close relationship with God.
Chuck attended North Torrance High School, though by 14, he had started to take on more responsibility at home. As well as studying, he helped his mother in taking care of his brothers while she worked.
“God has a plan for you,” Wilma would tell Chuck daily.
“She loves Jesus with all of her heart and soul and made sure we understood that [growing up],” he was reported as saying by Baptist Press. “She influenced me spiritually and instilled in me a sense of responsibility that carried over in my later adult life, she always told me ‘God has plans for you,’ and I didn’t know what she meant. I think I do now.”
It was in 1958 that Chuck married his high school sweetheart, Dianne Holechek. But we’ll come back to that in a short while.
Around the same time, he had started to take an interest in the army. He ended up joining the US Airforce the very same year he tied the knot with Holechek.
How Chuck Norris got his name
Chuck Norris was initially stationed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea, and it was there that he began to study martial arts.
As fate would have it, it was thanks to his time in the service that he got his now-legendary name.
During boot camp at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, a Hispanic guy living in the barrack with Chuck asked if he knew what Carlos meant in English.
“I said,’ yea, it is Charles,’” Norris explained on his website. “Then he said,’ The nickname for Charles is Chuck. That is what I am going to call you.’ Well, all the guys started calling me Chuck and it stuck.”
As per the US Army website, Chuck soon “realized that he couldn’t arrest a rowdy drunk without pulling his weapon.” So, he decided to study martial arts. His instructor was Grand Master Mun – instructor Tae Kwon Do – at the Osan Gym.
When he left the service in 1961, Chuck began working as a karate instructor. At that point, he had a black belt in karate and a brown belt in judo.
Chuck would go on to be something of a karate studio franchise owner. He opened more than 30 karate studios in the 1960s in the US, and through them taught many celebrities, including Priscilla Presley and Steve McQueen.
Moreover, he competed in numerous tournaments, winning the World Middleweight Karate Championship title for the first time in 1968. Norris would defend the title five times, and was soon seen as one of the greatest fighters in martial arts history.
“I was competing against guys with years and years of experience”
In 1974, Chuck retired from competition. By that point, his chain of karate schools had fallen into ruin.
“I thought that maybe 500 schools was better than owning six schools, well turns out it wasn’t. Anyway, two years later, I lost everything. It took me five years to get out of that hole and pay all the creditors back. In the meantime, I was trying to decide what I was going to do with my life,” Chuck explained.
As mentioned, Chuck had tutored Steve McQueen. It turned out that the actor had actually told Norris to try his hand at acting. The problem was that Chuck had no money, and acting classes were costly.
“Finally I found an acting school that I was able to take on my GI bill through the military,” Norris said. “So I went back to school to learn acting. Then I went out trying to find work (as an actor) but I was competing against guys with years and years of experience.”