It's a bad joke, but we'll repeat it anyway. Q: How do you tell Chuck Norris's age? A: Cut him in half and count the rings. The man who almost beat Bruce Lee in battle is seventy-years-old on Wednesday, would you believe. We at The Daily Maverick wanted to be the first to wish him happy birthday.
There are way more than two websites that celebrate the sophisticated ouvre of Chuck Norris, but only two seem to do it with the zeal and professionalism of the man himself. The first is chucknorrisfacts.com and the second is chucknorrisjokes.net. On the first you have biographical details like “According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, Chuck Norris can actually roundhouse kick you yesterday,” “Chuck Norris sleeps with a pillow under his gun,” and “Some people wear Superman pyjamas, Superman wears Chuck Norris pyjamas.” On the second you have one-liners like “Chuck Norris does not wear a condom because there is no such thing as protection from Chuck Norris”, “Chuck Norris once kicked a horse in the chin, its descendants are known as giraffes” and “Some people wear Superman pyjamas, Superman wears Chuck Norris pyjamas.”
Okay, so maybe the two sites are linked. Maybe neither of them take Chuck as seriously as they purport to. Maybe, if they did, they’d know that Chucky’s birthday is on Wednesday, and, like The Daily Maverick, they’d wish him a happy one.
Charles Ray Norris was born on March 10th 1940 in Ryan, Oklahoma, a descendant of Irish immigrants and native Cherokee Indians. His childhood was marred by limited athletic ability and poor social skills, a misery exacerbated by the abuse he sustained at school for his mixed blood. He daydreamed as a boy of making his tormentors pay, so after graduation, when he joined the United States Air Force and was posted to South Korea, he studied the martial art of Tang Soo Do and earned the nickname Chuck (!). On his return to America, he held the Professional Middleweight Karate champion title for six consecutive years.
It’s not known whether Chuck ever went back to Ryan to roundhouse kick his schoolboy tormentors into yesterday. What is known, however, is that in 1969 he made his acting debut in Dean Martin’s The Wrecking Crew. His big break as an actor came in 1972, when he played the role of Bruce Lee’s nemesis in the classic martial arts movie Way of the Dragon, renamed Return of the Dragon for US distribution. In the opinion of many commentators, the final-scene fight between the two masters – set, modestly, in Rome’s colosseum – is the best ever captured on film. There are no wires or acrobatics, and it was the first time Lee had full creative control as producer and director. Norris is still revered across Asia primarily for this film, and specifically for the final fight.
Watch: Bruce Lee vs Chuck in Way of the Dragon. (Hint: Chuck was paid to get beaten, well, killed. But Chuck being Chuck, he’s got 17 lives and counting. Unlike Bruce Lee.)
After Way of the Dragon, Chuck would never again play the bad guy. In Breaker! Breaker! (1977), Good Guys Wear Black (1978), Octogaon (1980) and An Eye for an Eye (1981), he proved his bankability as a starring hero. The 1980s saw him appear as the lead in a series of successful action films under the Cannon label, including Missing in Action, Code of Silence and Delta Force. By the early 1990s, the young males that had formed the core of Chuck’s movie-going public had traded him in for Kurt Cobain, grunge and suicidal disaffection. Chuck responded with the series Walker, Texas Ranger.
Nowadays, the bulk of his audience gathers to watch him on the Hallmark Channel.
Watch: Mick Huckabee’s Chuck Norris Approved ad for the 2008 GOP primaries
Chuck Norris, surprisingly, is a Republican. He has a number of children, one illegitimate. He publicly endorsed Arkansas governor Mick Huckabee for the 2008 GOP primaries and is one of America’s most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage. Over the course of his career, he has developed a martial art known as Chun Kuk Do, which draws heavily on his personal moral philosophy. Principle Seven of the Chun Kuk Do honour code is, “I will maintain an attitude of open-mindedness.”
So who’s perfect? From all of us at The Daily Maverick, happy birthday Chucky.
By Kevin Bloom
Watch: Top 10 Chuck facts (Read by Chuck himself, sort of)
Watch: Chuck in action
Main photo: Chuck Norris greets fans as he campaigns for US Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, January 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst