Belgian-born film star Jean-Claude Van Damme can be called an actor, although it would be more accurate to describe him as a bodybuilder and kickboxer. It evidently wasn't in the genes; Van Damme's father was an accountant and flower salesman. Taking up the study of Shotokan karate at the age of ten, Van Damme went on to win the middleweight championship of the European Professional Karate Association, where he thrilled one and all with his 360-degree leap-kick. Cashing in on his fame, the 18-year-old Van Damme launched the California Gym in Brussels. When he moved to L.A., he had 7,000 dollars to his name and spoke only French and Flemish. At first, he took many odd jobs, the least prepossessing of which was as a carpet layer. Van Damme's first film was a bit part in Chuck Norris' Missing in Action (1984). Groomed for stardom by Cannon Films' Menahem Golan, Van Damme became a big box-office commodity via such epics as No Retreat, No Surrender (1986); Bloodsport (1988); Cyborg (1989); Kickboxer (1989), which he co-wrote; Lionheart (1990); and Universal Soldier (1992). Fully cognizant of his own histrionic limitations, Van Damme didn't branch out into comedy or "sensitive" roles as has Arnold Schwarzenegger; when starring in the popular futuristic-action film Timecop (1994), Van Damme wisely left the acting to villain Ron Silver. He made his directorial debut with The Quest in 1996, and was so popular he made a cameo appearance in an episode of Friends that aired after the Super Bowl. He paired up with Dennis Rodman for 1997's Double Team and closed out the decade with Universal Soldier: The Return. Like many of his action star contemporaries, he lost some of his luster going into the 21st century appearing in a string of titles such as Replicant, In Hell, and The Hard Corps. However, in 2008 he earned some of the best reviews of his career with the meta action film JCVD. He followed up that success with Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Assassination Games, and joining up with other familiar faces for The Expendables 2.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Earned a black belt in karate at 16.
- Studied ballet.
- In 1976 won his first professional karate bout by knockout.
- Toured on European kickboxing and karate circuits.
- Moved to Hollywood at the age of 21.
- Changed his name in 1983.
- Earned first film credit for coordinating stunts in the 1984 release Missing in Action.
- Earned first screenwriting credit for Lionheart in 1990.
- Received critical acclaim for his acting in JCVD, a small indie film released in 2008.