by Teresa Lockhart
“God has plans for you.”
These words, first spoken by his mother when he was just a boy, still echo in
the mind and heart of Chuck Norris, known across the world as the star of the
nationally-syndicated TV program Walker, Texas Ranger, as well as
numerous action-adventure films.
Born March 10, 1940, to Wilma and Ray Norris, in Ryan, OK, the future martial
arts champion fought his way into the world. Though doctors were unsure he would
make it, Norris, named Carlos at birth, began to thrive.
His mother never doubted her son’s ability. She told him that from the moment
she saw him she knew God had special plans for him.
Norris’s childhood was unstable. His family struggled financially, and his
father made their life difficult, complicated by alcoholism.
Norris moved frequently during his early upbringing, and the family’s living
arrangements were meager. In his recent autobiography, Against All Odds (Broadman
and Holman, 2004), Norris describes one of his homes as an “old, rickety,
twenty-foot-long aluminum trailer shaped like a teardrop.” The one constant that
held the family together was his mother’s faith. Though she earned only $15 a
week, Wilma faithfully pledged $1.50 every week to her church.
However, when she became pregnant with Norris’s younger brother Aaron, she had
to give up her job, and the family was forced to live on Ray’s disability cheque.
Despite their circumstances, Norris’s mother never gave up hope and passed on
her faith to her sons, taking them to church and encouraging them to look to God
Norris was baptized at age 12. Later he, his mother, and brothers attended a
Billy Graham Crusade at the LA Sports Arena.
Though he’d already accepted Christ as his Saviour, Norris practically ran to
the front of the stage when Graham invited those wanting to commit their lives
to Jesus to come forward.
“Whether my response was an intellectual assent to the gospel or a recommitment
to the faith I’d embraced as a child, I can’t really say. All I know for sure is
... my life was in God’s hands,” he says.
As he grew older, Norris’s home life grew more despairing. His father killed an
elderly woman while driving drunk and was sentenced to a road camp for six
months. Upon his return home, he once again picked up the bottle.
“We agreed that it was pointless to continue living this way with Dad, never
knowing how or when he’d come home or how much more violent he might become,” he
says. Norris, his mother, and his brothers packed up their belongings and left.
After Norris graduated from high school, he enrolled in the United States Air
Force. Soon afterwards he married his high-school sweetheart, Dianne Holecheck,
and was later transferred to Osan Air Base in Korea.
There he developed his interest in the martial arts, eventually learning
empty-hand fighting — the type of martial arts training that inspired Norris to
become the first man in the West to hold an eighth-degree Black Belt Grand
Master in Tae Kwon Do, and to earn the respect of fellow martial arts master
Lee and Norris met during the All-American Karate Championship and struck up a
friendship, leading to Norris’s appearance in some of Lee’s films, including the
acclaimed 1973 picture Return of the Dragon. His appearance as Lee’s
opponent helped launch Norris’s own film and television career.
Norris, father of two boys, became so busy with his career he lost sight of what
really mattered — his relationship
with Dianne. He eventually started his own line of karate schools, but his
marriage became rocky. His finances then took a turn for the worse when the
large corporation that bought his martial schools faced bankruptcy.
While an appearance on The Tonight Show helped Norris regain his
financial security, his marriage never completely mended. He and Dianne
eventually divorced, but the two remain friends to this day.
“Now that I’ve traveled a few more miles in my spiritual journey, I’m able to
recognize the hand of God in ways I never have before. Amazingly, He has been
there all the time, working all around me, I just didn’t know it,” Norris
Though Norris admits to not having led a perfect life, his goal is to be a man
devoted to his faith and to things that matter eternally.
“Real men do live for Christ,” he once stated in an interview with New Man. “It
is important to make your peace with Christ while the opportunity exists. Life
is so fragile you never know when it’s going to be over. It could be over in a
blink of an eye, and then it’s too late to accept God’s gift of salvation.”
Norris’ heart for making a difference has led to his participation in numerous
charitable programs, including the Make a Wish Foundation and KickStart, a
program designed to teach kids the discipline of martial arts as an alternative
to involvement in gang activity, drugs and violence.
And, while some critics may argue that Norris’s films and television programs
have promoted violence, Norris is quick to defend his work, pointing out that
his shows pit good versus evil and fighting as means of self defense.
Today Norris, husband of six years to fellow-believer Gena, continues to make a
difference in people’s lives. One way is by donating the proceeds of Against All
Odds to KickStart.
“In many ways I believe my best days are still ahead,” Norris says. “I still
think young; I feel young; and I never want to lose that attitude. I like living
against all odds!”
photo by Forrest Stuart MacCormack /
courtesy Broadman and Holman
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