Before CGIs and body doubles became a cultural part of Hollywood action, Jean-Claude Van Damme lent his kick-boxing expertise to the industry and perfectly blended it into art.
Lovers of action films and thriller movies will always look to stars like Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, and Dwayne Johnson whenever they need that adrenaline-pumping scene and some hero complex.
However, before these stars ruled the action movie scene, Jean-Claude Van Damme was one of the actors that held it down. Van Damme’s movies were basically a reflection of his personal kick-boxing life, and there could not have been a better representation. Here’s a look through his career.
Who’s Jean-Claude Van Damme?
Jean-Claude Camille Francois Varenberg, famously known as Jean-Claude Van Damme, was always fascinated by martial arts even when he was a skinny preteen. The Belgian-born actor started studying Shokotan karate when he was 11. And because he was deeply invested in bodybuilding, he soon added battle and weightlifting to his interests.
Way into his teenage years, Van Damme actively took part in bodybuilding competitions. He won himself a middleweight championship title of the European Professional Karate Association.
Van Damme’s martial art career led him to open a gym in Brussels and bagging a few modeling gigs. But, despite the profitable returns, the then-youngster sought to take his art to the big screen.
The star actor’s first attempt at acting was in the Chinese movie industry, where he showed off his martial art skills. Then, longing for more, Van Damme headed to Los Angeles, hoping to join Hollywood.
His Martial Arts Skills Were His Passport Into Hollywood
The Sint Agartha-Berchem native switched his name to Frank Cujo during his early Hollywood career. He bagged minor rules, ranging from taxi driver, waiter, bouncer, to an aerobic instructor.
By 1986, Jean-Claude Van Damme got his first recognition in “No Retreat, No Surrender.” However, he got his big break in “Bloodsport” for his infamous helicopter kick two years later.
“Bloodsport” became a cult classic and paved the way for more blockbusters. Some of Van Damme’s acting credits included heroic roles in movies like “Kickboxer,” “Lionheart,” “Timecop,” “Street Fighter,” and “Universal Soldier.”
Van Damme’s Career Went Through A Steep Decline
“Timecop” served as Van Damme’s pot of gold because it was a huge box office success grossing at $100 million in the United States. This helped establish that the young man from Belgium was now a star.
However, things took a downward slope from here. As expected, Van Damme received a slew of offers worth millions, but he wanted more. An instance was when Universal Studios wanted to cast him in a three-film deal for $12 million.
Van Damme demanded $20 million, and the deal fell through in the end. Once speaking about that period, Van Damme admitted that he got arrogant, and this was because of the many deals coming his way.
Soon enough, he went from being a skilled action film star to Hollywood’s playboy. He recorded scores of partying, drug use, car crashes, and getting physical with paparazzi.
Van Damme also had to settle legal issues due to his drunk-driving cases. While the actor spiraled out of control, his career also suffered. He began to deteriorate, and this, in turn, meant he was paid less.
Jean-Claude Van Damme Reclaimed His Life
The “The Expendables” actor was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and checked himself in for rehabilitation. But unfortunately, Rehab could not do much for Van Damme. He decided to take things into his own hands by returning to the gym.
It took a lot for the “Predator” star to get back on his feet, but he did recover from the decline. Van Damme was married four times, amid his troubled life and career. But after he recovered, he remarried his third wife, Gladys Portugues, and started a family.
In those years that his career was in jeopardy, the “Sudden Death” actor rejected many movie gigs. This included his close pal Sylvester Stallone’s “Expendables.” However, he is grateful to this present day that the “Rambo” actor did not give up on him.
Stallone later called him to film in the sequel, “The Expendables 2.” The muscles from Brussels is still very much in the acting game and looks forward to taking up roles with “good scripts.”