Chuck Norris is a former martial arts champion who retired from the ring, turned to teaching and ended up trying his hand at acting in his mid-30s on the suggestion of his famous student Steve McQueen.
Norris went on to big-screen success in films such as "Lone Wolf McQuade," "Code of Honor," "Missing in Action" and "Delta Force," all staples of late-night cable TV. One of his first movie appearances was in the quirky 1972 action mob story "Return of the Dragon," in which Norris fought with the legendary Bruce Lee in the Colosseum. It's credited with launching his film career.
Later, he starred in "Walker, Texas Ranger," an action drama that aired for eight seasons on CBS. Though critics dismissed it when it premiered in April 1993, the show was a hit with viewers who tuned in each week for the adventures of Norris as modern-day Texas Ranger Cordell Walker. It ended its run in 2001.
Norris modeled himself after classic film heroes like John Wayne and Gary Cooper: "a guy who doesn't look for trouble but can handle it," he told The Times in 1993.
Though he's spent his entire career taking down bad guys, he wasn't always a physically intimidating presence. In his 1988 autobiography, "The Secret of Inner Strength," Norris wrote about being born a "blue baby" with an alcoholic father and growing up as a shy, slightly built kid. "Nothing ever came easy for me," he says in the book. "Not even being born."
He wanted to be a police officer when he graduated from North Torrance High School but ended up enlisting in the Air Force. While stationed in South Korea, he started training in martial arts. He eventually won a slew of major titles, including professional world middleweight champion. He holds black belts in judo and tae kwon do.
"I jumped into the karate world, but I didn't have the natural attributes that so many of the fighters had," he told The Times in 1988. "And because I didn't have those natural attributes, I had to train a lot harder than anybody else. But I know I had to in order to win."
Norris, a devout Christian, writes a regular column for a conservative news website and champions Republican politicians. He's a frequent fundraiser for conservative causes. His Kick-Start Foundation, based in Texas, trains high-risk urban youngsters in martial arts.