Chuck Norris -- Actor, Director, Cult Icon

This story originally aired on October 18, 2006.

Chuck Norris has two speeds: Walk, and kill. There is no chin under the Chuck Norris beard, just another fist. Chuck Norris once visited the Virgin Islands: They are now known as "The Islands."

These are just a few of the thousands of Chuck Norris "facts" found on dozens of Internet sites that draw hundreds of millions of hits.

College students and bored office workers e-mail them to one another-and they are quoted during military briefings in Iraq.

"Life is like a box of chocolates," said Capt. Joe LaTendresse, who is stationed at Iraq's Camp Liberty. "You never know when Chuck Norris going to kill you."

"Never make fun of Chuck," said Major Robert Hart who is at Camp Victory. "You'll get a roundhouse kick."

Somehow, the bearded star of 1980s B movies and televsion has become a post-modern Paul Bunyon, a source of comedic myth-making. But Hart said Norris has real value as a symbol for Americans stationed overseas.

"I think it's kinda going back to the World War Two days when you have Kilroy was here, and Kilroy's not around anymore I guess," he says. "We got Chuck Norris instead."

Strong and Silent

Chuck Norris is a full-on phenomenon, and this all amuses -- and confuses -- the man himself.

"I think, 'How do these kids come up with these?' It's incredible," Norris says of the "facts." "It's mind blowing, truthfully, but I take it as an extreme compliment from these kids."

His favorites?

"'They wanted to put Chuck Norris on Mt. Rushmore, but the granite wasn't tough enough for his beard,'" Norris says. "Or, 'When Chuck Norris does pushups, he doesn't push up. He pushes the earth down.'"

These kids might never recognize the kid Norris once was: scrawny, uncoordinated, raised by a single mom in Oklahoma.

He joined the Air Force in 1958, after high school, and discovered martial arts while stationed in Korea. He came home with a black belt. He began competing in order to drum up business for his karate studio and went on to win six world titles.

But contrary to the one-liner superlatives, Norris doesn't consider toughness to be his greatest attribute.

"If I use one word, I would have to say timing," Norris says. "Timing I think was my key thing. I was able to figure out the timing to close the gap between my opponent and myself and move back, and that was I think the key."

He also carried a quiet confidence noticed by one of his students, Steve McQueen, the film icon who encouraged him to try acting.

After a host of failed auditions and bit parts, he created his own character and had a friend write it into a script titled "Good Guys Wear Black."

"When I did 'Good Guys Wear Black,' I had a lot of dialogue in that movie," Norris says. "So Steve said, after he saw it, he said, 'Well, let me give you a suggestion. Cut your dialogue down dramatically.'"

"I had no acting experience. I'm -- you know, I'm not a good actor," Norris says. "What am I going to portray? So, I decided I was going to play a very strong positive image of a character. And that's what Steve McQueen actually suggested I do. He said, 'You know, try to make this character as much of you as you possibly can and ... and play that strong silent type.'"

Less talking, more kicking became the hallmark of a career that spans more than two dozen films and one television series that's recently emerged as a pop culture touchstone -- even though it's long been in reruns.

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