Chuck Norris Can Do Anything: How The Badass Became A Meme
Toughest guy on the internet? That's easy -- it's Chuck Norris, obviously. This star of action films got his start in the '70s, learning from Bruce Lee and then headlining his own films. Norris is a martial-arts master who also looked pretty badass wielding Uzis, rocket launchers, sawed-off shotguns and the like. Norris' innate strength and skill, his ability to defeat literally anyone or anything in movies like The Octagon and Delta Force, makes him ideal fodder for internet memes, like these:
"Chuck Norris hit 11 out of 10 targets... with 9 bullets"
"Death once had a near Chuck Norris experience"
"Chuck Norris uses pepper spray to season his meat"
"Chuck Norris beats rock, paper and scissors"
Life often takes us in unexpected directions. For the one and only Chuck Norris, life changed course more often than a drunken sailor. Thankfully, for Norris, all the unpredictable twists and turns finished with a wildly successful Hollywood career and more mail order business than Shark Tank. Born Carlos Ray Norris in Ryan, Oklahoma in 1940, no one could have ever predicted where he’d end up. From podunk Oklahoma to Walker, Texas Ranger and ending on the internet as the lord of memes, no path resembles the path of one Chuck Norris.
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After graduating high school, Norris joined the Air Force as an Air Policeman, hoping to find his way into law enforcement post-military. The Air Force stationed him at Osan Air Base in South Korea. As the legend goes, Norris found himself in a bar brawl and realized he needed to learn how to defend himself.
During his time in Korea, he learned Tang Soo Do and Judo. He showed great potential and became the first westerner to earn the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt Grand Master in Tang Soo Do. After leaving the military he opened a chain of martial arts schools. Unfortunately, Norris’ business acumen at that time failed to equal his fighting skills.
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After winning a few national martial arts competitions in America, Norris opened his own martial arts school. Eventually, a company approached him with a business proposition to increase his reach. As he says, “I thought that maybe 500 schools was better than owning six schools (laughs), 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.” As it often happens, one door closed and another opened for Norris.
While giving private lessons to actor Steve McQueen, the legendary actor gave him a tip. “So he said 'I would suggest that you try the acting field.' I said, 'Why? I've never had an acting class in my life. I never even did a high school play.' He said 'well, acting is not just having lessons. You either have a certain presence that comes across on the screen or you don't.' And he said 'I think you may have it.” Norris also trained the Osmonds, Priscilla Presley, and even Bob Barker.
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Before Norris got his big break, he rubbed elbows with the incomparable Bruce Lee. Lee appeared at a martial arts competition in 1968 that Norris wound up winning. The two hit it off and trained together in Los Angeles. After Lee became a big star in Hong Kong, he invited Norris to appear in the classic Way Of The Dragon.
However, when producers saw that Norris and Lee looked similar in size, they asked Norris to pack on some pounds. Norris recalls that the producer said "'Well can you put on 20 pounds?' I said, 'Well I'll try.' So I started eating hamburgers and drinking malt. But I was training every day so I was burning the weight right back off again. I had to literally stop training and just eat. And then of course you know it wasn't muscle it was more fat than it was muscle. So I went up to about 180 for that fight scene. That's why you didn't see me do any jumping kicks. I couldn't get off the ground.”
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After enrolling in an acting school via the G.I bill, Norris decided to take McQueen’s advice and really give acting a shot. Of course, the road to stardom wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. “I went out trying to find work but I was competing against guys with years and years of experience. I said 'this isn't going to work.' So I wound up writing my own screenplay.” After shopping his screenplay for four years, he finally caught a break and made Good Guys Wear Black.
“So I went in there very naïve and not realizing there was so much to it. And of course, the critics crucified me because my acting was so bad. But fortunately, the martial arts in the film was adequate and people loved it, my flying kick through the car windshield and stuff like that."
Chuck Norris Owns The Internet
After making a few moderately successful action movies like A Force Of One and The Octagon, Norris realized that, “since Bruce has sadly died there's a gap there for a good strong positive heroic image on the screen. Because movies in the seventies were kind of negative movies, anti-hero type movies. That's how I went for it and that's what saved me because my acting left a lot to be desired.”
For decades Norris cornered the market on wholesome action movies that espoused positive lessons. During his Hall of Fame run on Walker, Texas Ranger, he even slipped in his own non-profit aimed at keeping kids off drugs. When the internet really morphed into what we understand today, his image as a badass that could do anything really took hold. For kids of a certain age, they only knew Chuck Norris as the guy from the hilarious memes. In the end, Norris came out on top, starting a number of businesses from home gyms to jeans with stretchy crotches that enabled his classic spinning back kicks.