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Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris (born March 10, 1940) is an American martial artist, action star and television and film actor who is known for action roles such as Cordell Walker on Walker, Texas Ranger and for his iconically tough image and roundhouse kick.
Norris was born in Ryan, Oklahoma, the son of Wilma (née Scarberry) and Ray Norris, who was a mechanic, bus driver, and truck driver. Norris’ paternal grandfather (an immigrant) and maternal grandmother were of Irish descent, while his paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather were Cherokee Native Americans. Norris was named after Carlos Berry, his father’s minister. He has two younger brothers, Wieland (deceased) and Aaron (a Hollywood producer). When Norris was sixteen, his parents divorced, and he later relocated to Prairie Village, Kansas and then Torrance, California, with his mother and brothers. Norris describes his childhood as downbeat. He was nonathletic, shy, and scholastically mediocre. Other children taunted him about his mixed ethnicity, and Norris daydreamed about beating up his tormentors. Norris mentioned in his autobiography that his father had a very serious problem with drinking and “wasn’t there” a lot for him growing up. Norris admitted that he loved his father but did not like him. However, he professed that he only felt pity for the man because “that was just how he was, and he missed so much.”
He then joined the United States Air Force as an Air Policeman in 1958 and was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea. It was there that Norris acquired the nickname Chuck and began his training in Tang Soo Do (tangsudo), an interest that led to black belts in that art and the founding of the Chun Kuk Do (“Universal Way”) form. He eventually created the education associations United Fighting Arts Federation and “KickStart” (formerly “Kick Drugs Out of America”), a middle school and high school–based program intended to give at-risk children a focus point in life through the martial arts. When he returned to the United States, he continued to act as an AP at March Air Force Base California. Norris was discharged in August of 1962. He worked for the Northrop Corporation and opened a chain of karate schools, which Chad McQueen, Steve McQueen’s son, attended.
Norris was defeated in his first two tournaments, dropping decisions to Joe Lewis and Allan Steen and three matches at the International Karate Championships to Tony Tulleners. By 1967 Norris had improved enough that he scored victories over the likes of Lewis, Skipper Mullins, Arnold Urquidez, Victor Moore, Ron Marchini, and Steve Sanders. In early 1968, Norris suffered the tenth and last loss of his career, losing an upset decision to Louis Delgado. On November 24, 1968, he avenged his defeat to Delgado and by doing so won the Professional Middleweight Karate champion (non-contact) title, which he held for six consecutive years. In 1969, he won Karate’s triple crown for the most tournament wins of the year, and the Fighter of the Year award by Black Belt Magazine.
It was also in 1969 that Norris made his acting debut in the Dean Martin movie The Wrecking Crew.