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Photo credit: © Forrest Stuart MacCormack

Book

EXCLUSIVE

Chuck Norris Gets a Kick Out of Life

By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Producer


CBN.com
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Face-to-face with a famous action hero of the big and small screen, naturally, I was a little nervous. But then it isn’t every day that I meet the high-kicking, strong and steely star of Walker, Texas Ranger.

After a welcoming Lone Star hello from him and his wife Gena at this year’s Christian Booksellers Association Convention in Atlanta, Ga., I sat down to hash out some of the movie star’s passions and projects. And I came to find out some interesting facts about this Hollywood actor – namely that he grew up shy, so shy, in fact, that he used to memorize his speeches, he was not the least bit athletic, and he didn’t have a lot of staying power.

Born Carlos Ray in 1940 in Ryan, Okla., later to be nicknamed “Chuck” by a Hispanic barrack mate during Air Force boot camp, Norris grew up with an absentee, alcoholic father, a fact which he says greatly influenced his self-image.

“I think a lot of my shyness and non-athleticism came because I didn’t have a father to instill those in me,” he says.

So how, exactly, did this shy and uninspired guy who moved 16 times in his first 15 years and grew up the product of divorce with a mother on welfare become a hard-working, top-notch Hollywood star known for his incredibly athletic moves?

From the natural standpoint, it certainly didn’t seem likely.

However, Chuck’s mother, whom Norris says “loves Jesus with her heart and soul still” always believed in him. She would tell him repeatedly, “God has plans for you.” And Norris stayed just curious enough to want to find out exactly what that meant.

Chuck NorrisNorris believes that part of the divine plan for his life came when he first stepped into the world of martial arts while on his military tour in Korea as a young man. Something inside him loved every minute of the sport.

“I was just a start-and-stop guy. I could never really follow through on anything that I started. Martial arts was really the first thing in my life that I followed through on and accomplished a degree of proficiency for,” he admitted.

Crediting the martial arts with building his self-esteem and teaching him discipline and focus, Norris was finally able to rise above his painfully shy self. At 21 he was asked to do a martial arts demonstration at March Air Force Base in California for a crowd of about 400. Having never been before an audience, Norris was nervous, so he decided to write out his speech and memorize it. The day of the event, however, things went differently than planned.

“That night, I picked up the microphone. My palms were sweating and I said, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Chuck Norris and I would like to welcome you here tonight.’ That was the last thing I remembered. The next thing I remembered, I was walking out into the middle of the gym, and as I was walking out there, I was thinking, Did I say anything else, or did I just lay the microphone down? To this day, I don’t know.”

Despite the memory lapse, Norris told me, “I was able to crack that egg of insecurity that I had carried around for 21 years by doing that. I kept forcing myself to keep doing that, and eventually I was able to overcome it.”

Putting this personal victory into biblical terms, Norris likens his battle with shyness to the words of the Apostle Paul.

“What made the Apostle Paul a great speaker?” Norris asked me. “He was so shy. In 2 Corinthians 10:1, he talks about addressing the Corinthians and says, ‘I am so timid talking to you.’ The Apostle Paul did what he had to do to spread the message of God. I realize that that is what I have to do; I have to bite the bullet and overcome my shyness.”

Early struggles seem to have suited Norris just fine. As they say, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’

And Norris wouldn’t have it any other way.

“People ask, ‘Wouldn’t you have liked life to have been different?' I reflect back and think, No, I don’t think that I would because it helped me grow up as an individual and it helped me to appreciate the things that I do have,” he said.

And, boy, what things to appreciate!

He is a six-time World Karate Champion, hero of more than 23 feature films, star and producer of his own long-running, award-winning prime-time TV show, a friend of several presidents, a big fan and endorser of Fitness Quest’s Total Gym, and a father for the second time around to twins Danilee and Dakota. Add to that list a beautiful wife whom he considers his soul mate. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in Bible-believing Christian, the kind that gets invitations to speak at Christian ministries like T.D. Jakes Ministry.

That’s quite a portfolio. But it’s largely this last element, his Christian faith, that prompted Norris to pen his latest autobiography, Against All Odds (Broadman & Holman).

That and inspiration from his second wife, Gena, a former model whom he met in 1997 in Dallas, while on a dinner date. Gena [then Gena O’Kelley] played a small part in Walker, Texas Ranger. Chuck was so impressed with Gena that he got the courage to ask her out. They married November 28, 1998.

“I was in a different place in my life in 1988,” said Norris. “I had pretty much drifted away from God, and if you read the book, of course, it doesn’t espouse my faith. I kept it very secular. Once I reestablished my faith with God, all the thanks goes to my wife. She said, ‘You really need to redo your book because that was 16 or 17 years ago and a lot has happened in your life since then. You really need to go back and write it the way that it should be written.’ I thought about it extensively before I decided to make that plunge because I remember how hard it was the first time. But finally we prayed about it and decided to do the book again and let people know where I am at in my life at this stage.”

Gena has also been key in helping the Norris’ establish godly habits, like regular Bible reading and prayer.

“She reads the Bible every morning,” Norris said about his wife. “Finally, she got me to sit down and read it with her. Once I started, it became a regular routine for us.”

Although Norris grew up going to church and says he accepted the Lord as a child and gained inspiration through a Billy Graham Crusade as a young boy, Norris really didn’t have a faith wake-up call until Gena went into pre-term labor with their twins and experienced severe, life-threatening medical complications.

“It was a really trying time for me and a time for reevaluation of what was important in my life,” he explained.

Now, the Norris’ have two beautiful and healthy 3-year-olds, thanks to modern science and the Holy Spirit’s nudging, prompting Norris to switch doctors to a Los Angeles specialist who had previously saved the babies of a Christian friend in Utah.

Raising and influencing children, their own and others in their community, is high on Norris’ list.

In 1990, Norris founded the KICKSTART Foundation. With the help of President Bush, Norris implemented a program teaching the martial arts to 150 high-risk students at a Houston, Texas, school. Since then, it has spawned to 30 schools with more than 4, 200 active participants. Proceeds from Norris’ latest book go to help fund this foundation.

“KICKSTART, I think, is one of God’s plans for me and for Gina, too,” said Norris. “We work with kids who are already going down the wrong path, who already have two strikes against them, inner-city children who have no self start. And our program KICKSTART, which means building strong, moral character in our youth through the martial arts, is a way for us to give back.”

Besides teaching them martial arts skills, students of KICKSTART get positively affirmed and even a dose of Bible principles.

Chuck NorrisNorris explained, “The martial arts is a philosophy that is pretty much the principles in the Bible. Even though we can’t talk about Jesus, we can talk about what Jesus talks about in the Bible – love, loving your neighbor, being good people. Even though we can’t quote Scripture, we can say what Jesus says in the Bible or what the Apostle Paul says or what St. Peter says. We can say that in an indirect way, which we do.”

Standing on principle is important to Norris, which is why Norris decided to help promote Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of The Christ.

“I was the only celebrity to publicly promote The Passion that wasn’t in the movie,” he told me. “As far as Hollywood went, everyone was afraid to say anything, but I went on Hannity & Colmes and a lot of TV shows and emphasized how important the movie was.”

Norris isn't worried that taking such a stand will affect his future career. In fact, Norris thinks Hollywood views his outspoken, conservative self in a positive way.

“I think they admire me that I don’t cave in,” he said. “They know where I come from, and I think they appreciate the fact that I don’t waiver on my principles.”

Standing up for his faith isn't a new concept for Norris.

Norris is thankful that he was able to espouse his Christian viewpoint in several episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. Despite the fact that faith-based programming was discouraged by the network at the time, Norris got the go-ahead to write one episode with the understanding that if it was not a highly rated show, he would never consider writing another. The episode ‘The Neighborhood’ was so successful that it was the first show to break the top 10 for Walker. After that initial success, Norris did several more episodes highlighting faith. Walker did so well that the show eventually won the Epiphany Award for best Christian programming of the year, beating out Touched by An Angel.

Most recently, Norris has been involved in another faith-based project, a movie called Bells of Innocence, produced by his son from his first marriage, Mike Norris. In the film, Norris plays the archangel Matthew in this film about dueling spiritual forces.

Norris is particularly proud of Mike, sharing a story of how his eldest son finally settled on a career in Christian moviemaking.

“Dr. Ed Cole [formerly of the Christian Men's Network] just died of cancer a while back, but he was a big influence in our life. When he was getting ready to pass away, we flew to Dallas to pray with him. We walked in there and we took Mike. Ed was in bed. Mike went over to the bed and grabbed Dr. Cole’s hand and started praying with him. Dr. Cole put his hand on Mike’s head and anointed him. Mike was the last person that he blessed. After that was when Mike decided to start doing these faith-based movies,” Norris said.

With so many potential projects ahead and so many people yet to influence, the Norris’ especially covet the prayers of the saints.

“The closer and the stronger our commitment is getting and the more people we know that are being affected and touched, the more cranked up the devil is,” said Gena. “We really feel the pressures coming.”

But even with the inevitable pressures ahead, something tells me this action star couple is going to come out the other end stronger than ever. I know because they have already been there. They already have been pitted ‘against all odds.’

No obstacle is too great. And that is the message Norris hopes kids today will understand.

“So many kids today, they see the success side of my life, they see the martial arts success, they see the film success, but they don’t know where I come from, the poverty and the welfare and the obstacles that I had to overcome to accomplish my goals in life,” Norris stated. “I am hoping that this book will encourage a lot of kids today to say, ‘If Chuck Norris can overcome those obstacles in his life, then there is no reason why I can’t overcome my obstacles. I am going to pursue my dreams.”


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