Chuck Norris -- Actor, Director, Cult Icon

He's the ultimate B-lister, so why are people obsessed with Chuck Norris?


July 4, 2007 — -- 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."

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 ChuckNorris 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 recentlyemerged as a pop culture touchstone -- even though it's long been in reruns.

It's a frequent joke on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," and in the recent movie "Talladega Nights," Will Ferrell's character, Ricky Bobby, named his two sons Walker and Texas Ranger.

The show "Walker, Texas Ranger" ran eight seasons, but his character has achieved syndication immortality. The late-night reruns are regular dormitory fare in an era when Orlando Bloom is considered an "action hero."

When an 18-year-old freshman at Brown University created the first Chuck Norris "fact generator," the response was overwhelming.

"Overall, we've gotten about 140, 150 million hits," Ian Spector, now a sophomore says. "There was students in universities, there are people in jobs where they are bored, and there are people in the military, and then there's just everyone else who I just can't figure out....In Poland, for instance, I think in around April or so of this year, as far as search queries go, on the Internet, number two was Chuck Norris, number one was Bird Flu."

One floor of a dorm at the University of Texas is devoted to all things Chuck. The students there seem to worship him.

"He's like this elevated superstar, badass, bucking, kicking dude, but he's also a good, nice, normal guy," Johnna Andiorio says.

"As a kid, I grew up thinking we won Vietnam because of his movies," Tiger Scheu says.

Though many indulge an ironic appreciation of Norris, there is a genuine respect here.

"He actually brings us together. We really enjoy watching his show," Sean Foster says. "We sit down and be quiet and watch his show."

At Camp Victory in Baghdad, trading Norris facts is called "upchucking." Odes to his prowess have been scrawled inside latrines there.

"If we brought Chuck Norris over here, the war would end a lot sooner," SFC Stephan Battiest, who is based at Camp Liberty, joked. "Send ushome."

"Well, you know, I'm the spiritual leader of about eight platoons over there, and that's a real compliment," Norris says. "One particular group, I'm their icon ... I'm on their weapons.

He is also the icon of the World Combat League, which has teams in eight major American cities. Kicking and punching as a team sport was hisidea, and all profits go toward his real passion: teaching martial arts to inner city kids across the country.

"I've graduated 40,000 over the last 13 years and many of these kids, going on to college and becoming successful in their own right," Norrissays. "And if they were here right now, they would say to you it's because of this program that I'm not in prison or dead today."

Some might question Norris's efforts to teach violence to young people -- isn't that the worst possible thing you could teach them?

"You would think so, but actually it is just the opposite," Norris says. "It's the bullies who are afraid, are the ones that do all the fighting. It's not the secure kids that get out there and fight. It's the insecure kids. And when you develop that security in these youngsters and all of a sudden they have no reason to fight... This is to me the most gratifying thing I've ever been able to do."

Norris is now 66 years old -- or, as he says, "39 with 27 years experience."

According to the Chuck Norris fact generator, "Chuck Norris does not age. He roundhouse kicks time in the face."

"Yep, that's what I do," Norris says. "Actually, that's what I do."