Van Damme Biography
Jean-Claude van Damme was born Jean-Claude François Camille Van Varenberg, on October 18, 1960 in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, outside Brussels Belgium.
He epitomizes the action karate actor. He has choreographed, written, and directed several of the almost 40 movies he has acted in from 1984 to 2012. As a teenager he won under his birth name “Van Varenberg” the 1979 Professional European International Full Contact Kickboxing Championship and thus a legitimate karate fighter and real black belt champion.
By age 19, he had extraordinarily command over his demanding sport. His impressive tournament wins are not his claim to fame. He intentionally gave up ordeals of fighting for acting — and it is his splendid karate movie fight scenes that makes Van Damme utterly qualified as an international icon to truly represent the mixed martial arts before the world audience.
By popularizing his sport theatrically in his movies the world obtained an appreciation for this ancient Asian activity. First it was Bruce Lee, and then 15 years later it was Van Damme who re-awoke the public’s perception of the martial arts. The martial arts world is a lot larger because of the two.
KARATE ICON: In the movies, Van Damme’s well-developed physique was put to use in his action stunts which were impressive like his ability to do his signature full-split. His fight scenes typically choreographed by him to deliver the skill of his karate moves in perfect motion; although not always accurate of a true fight his mesmerizing fight scenes are a spectacular delight showcasing not only karate, but also pay homage to those who dedicatedly fight in the unforgiving full contact karate ring. World wide, many capable fighters have benefited directly from Van Damme’s limelight as he has come to personally highlight the mixed martial arts. From Van Damme’s inspiration, boys haves learned to become a more confident and capable man. Karate is not for the weak. That is what makes Van Damme such an interesting story. He was not born great or gifted or of courageous attitude.
CHILDHOOD: Van Damme’s parents were simple, everyday people owning a flower shop. Van Damme states he “grew up sadly as skinny kid wearing big, thick glasses and was much a nerd”. He was shy, timid, and enjoying books, and Beethoven; he was not the “hands-on type”. His early childhood photos make it clear he was no athlete either; nonetheless, he emerges as a coveted European full contact black belt champion. Van Damme had to earn every inch of being a champion and ultimately blossomed into an accomplished body builder and skilled classical dancer. The unimaginable transformation started when his father in 1971 enrolled him at 10 going on 11 in Shotokan – a martial art devoted to total mind-body control.
However, Van Damme had to train with older 16 and 17 years olds. He overcame his fear of the stronger boys; he trained hard, lifted weights, and “rolled with the punches”. Training under his talented master, Claude Goetz, Van Damme became inspired developing an uncommonly impressive array of high kicks and fast strikes. He also trained in ballet learning to be more flexible and became known as “the Balloon” for his high jumps; he was invited to join the Paris Opera as a dancer, but declined to further pursue karate after choosing to drop from school at 16. Despite that, he is known for having a sharp mind, is multilingual, and cultured in the fine arts.As the Full Contact European Karate Champion, he opened a successful gym in his hometown and studied Tae Kwon Do, Muay Tai and kickboxing with Dominique Valera. When offered a minor role in the 1984 French film Rue Barbare (Barbarian Streets) cast as a policeman, Van Damme energetically changed his interest from karate to becoming an actor. Philippe Graton, author of “Van Damme an Anatomy of Determination” quotes Van Damme saying in an October 1991 interview: "I wanted to become a star, making people dream... Whereas competition is taking hits all our life, getting your brain crushed and often end in misery and leave nothing behind."
In pursuit of his acting goal and desire not to get “crushed” only to be forgotten, he abandoned home life and traveled first to Hong Kong as a model with no real success; then on to Hollywood in the USA in 1981. Despite his good looks and athletic skills, his lack of English held him back. Van Damme’s difficulties underscore how hard it can be to break into the movies based on raw strength and good looks alone. “But, the only way to fail in Hollywood is to quit” and Van Damme refused to quit. He landed a simple role in 1984 movie “Breakin” as a passerby who stops to watch a dance sequence.
The first USA Movie Role was in the short 1984 comical film “Monaco Forever”. He is credited as “VanDam” not Van Damme. He performed 2 minutes and 13 seconds as a muscular, barefoot “gay”. Driving a Jaguar, he offers a lift to a hitchhiker who then challenges the driver to a fight for making a pass. But, the hitchhiker runs for his life when seeing the dramatic karate kicks of the “gay” driver. In reality, Van Damme is “all male” — but was desperate for an acting job and daringly took this role. At 23, and having recently won the International Professional European Kickboxing Championship, Van Damme was more than man enough to play this somewhat embarrassing role as a “gay” even though most other male actors would cringe. Today, the film provides an inconceivable good laugh! The movie director, W. Levy, and Charles Pitt, who played the hitchhiker, praised Van Damme’s relaxed acting and his precision kicks skillfully aimed a fraction of an inch from Pitt’s face. Van Damme’s role was shot in one day; he spoke in French contributing to his considerable ease undertaking his first real role. Subsequently, Van Damme became the personal trainer for karate star Chuck Norris and through this contact landed a bit role as a stunt man in Norris’ half-bit movie “Missing in Action”. The movie was not overly successful and did little to advance Van Damme’s acting career – except to fiercely wet his appetite for more acting.
From his earlier trip to Hong Kong, Van Damme made contacts that later paid off when the highly acclaimed action director, Corey Yuen Kwai, came to America from Hong Kong to direct the groundbreaking 1985 film “No Retreat, No Surrender”. This was the first American movies to enjoy a true Asian influence and became a cult-classic. It gave Van Damme his most meaningful role in a movie so far by playing the “bad guy” who is defeated in the closing match.
The shorter Van Damme abandoned his movie part in Schwarzenegger’s 1987 movie the “Predator” of wearing the extraterrestrial “Predator Suit” since Kevin P. Hall his 7ft. 2½ in. replacement was far more adapt at wearing the theatrically revised and bulky “Suit”.
BIG BREAK IN MOVIES: The 1988 movie “Bloodsport” electrified Van Damme’s fame at last. This movie based on Frank Dux’s creative account of being the first American winner of the Kumite, an international deadly full contact contest. Filmed in Hong Kong, the movie became a definite classic. Van Damme went on a roller coaster ride of his life dazzling and dazing movie audiences with his heart thumping martial art scenes playing the strong but silent action hero. Van Damme was not only a champion of karate in real life, but more importantly — a champion for karate in his movie roles!
SKILLED KARATE ACTOR: Because of his ballet and intense bodybuilding routines, Van Damme was capable of performing genuinely remarkable athletic feats. As an actor, he excelled in his karate tournament scenes which reflected far greater appeal then that typically found during true ringside fights. His powerfully erupting scenes relied little on props, special effects or contrived editing as common for most movie fight scenes as with Steven Seagal.
Cameras were placed strategically around the ring for close ups and for low-angle shots to capture the beauty of his nearly unbelievable high jumps and 360 degree spins. Unlike a real match, the beauty of Van Damme’s karate abilities are choreographically presented so the viewer can more fully appreciate the skillful high kicks, fast punches and accurate twirling spins. From the brilliant execution of the movie classic "Bloodsport" undertaken in his mid twenties to today, Van Damme remains rock-hard yet subtle and flexible. His body nearly a wonder as it appears to easily defy aging much as he made his 360-degree high, spinning kicks appear easy decades ago in his youth. Other action heroes seldom keep their top form in their private life as Van Damme. His splendid execution of a full split is something one could not imagine fellow bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger doing. Van Damme's physical and mental focus acts as a standard encouraging others to strive for a strong, healthily and capable body — just as his strong focus on the martial arts acts as the standard on which we now judge those new action herons who are to follow from his very creative example.
Van Damme, now 50 (in 2010) is still “rip” being in excellent physical shape. He remains popular and in touch with reality from that of movie fantasy. He presents himself to his fans and in interviews as being sensitive and definitely not pompous at heart, but down to earth and yet with his mind and eyes set on matters larger than his own self as he heads into adventure of new movie roles and genre. We remain captivated and glued by Van Damme’s highly challenging karate executions and by his ever improving acting. His genuine French accent adding a touch of universal class to his character and roles which are unmistakable and unmatched in all of Hollywood!
CHRONICLE OF TOURNAMENTS: In Antwerp, fighting only under actual birth name of “Van Varenberg”, and never under Van Damme led to confusion over his fight record. He made his debut knocking out Eric Strauss in just 23 seconds of round one with a spinning back fist. A week later, he stopped Emile Leibman with an axe-kick in 33 seconds of a 3-round full-contact middleweight match in Isegham, Belgium. In following five months, he added impressive all first round victories over Andre Robaeys, Jacques Piniarski, and Rolf Risberg, improving his full-contact karate record to 5-0 (5 knockouts). After knocking out Jean-Claude Bollaert to win the Belgium Middleweight Full-Contact Championship in Brussels, many European martial arts experts viewed Van Damme as “very promising” to include both Mike Anders-founder of Professional Karate Magazine, and the multiple European Karate champion, Gert Lemmens, who echoed the same belief.
Professional European International Kickboxing Championship: Van Damme as but a teenager captured the European Middleweight Full-Contact Championship by delivering a knockout in 21 seconds. Van Damme was as fast as he was good with KO’s typically within first round and often within seconds of the opening. Frequently he fought older fighters that were more experienced. Full-contact hitting was not child play in these championship games.ATTEMPT AT WORLD CHAMPION: In 1979, Van Damme went to Orlando, Florida in the United States to fight in the World Full-Contact Championships (WAKO). In his first U.S. match, Van Damme (fighting as Jean-Claude Van Varenberg) defeated Sherman "Big Train" Bergman of Miami, with a first round victory and also Gilberto Diaz-Miranda. However, he then lost to fellow Belgium citizen, Patrick Teugels by “decision” in third round, missing his bid to capture a world title. Returning to Brussels, he scored a knockout over Verlugels in 1980 and then fought a friendly re-match with, Teugels, the World’s Vice Champion, but winning in less than two minutes! Van Damme retired from active competition having his impressive European Full-Contact Championship to his credit prior to 19 years of age along with the full right to his earned Professional black belt. Jean-Claude is married to Gladys Portugues and both live in Hong Kong. He is the proud father of three children.
Van Damme's best-known child is Kristopher van Varenberg (20 may 1987) and is the first son of Jean-Claude van Damme with fitness expert/actress Gladys Portugues. Kristopher has a younger sister, Bianca Van Varenberg (1990) and another brother with Van Damme's ex-wife Darcy LaPier, named Nicolas (1995).
Kristopher first faced the camera in Universal Soldier (1992) as Young Luc Deveraux followed by The Quest (1996) -first film directed by Van Damme- in which he portrayed the character of Young Chris. He got his first acting role in Derailed (2002) then resumed his acting career in Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) and The Eagle Path (2010) -directed by Jean-Claude Van Damme. In an exclusive interview with Kristopher by the Int'l JCVD Forum, he said that he also has passion for writing and directing besides his career as an actor. He is also credited as a writer for the first time in Van Damme's martial arts epic movie known as The Eagle Path (2010). Also Kristopher is co-star in Van Damme´s 2011 movie 'Assassination Games'.
This biography was written by Louis-Philippe Simard, of Montréal, Black Belt 3rd DAN, Taekwondo WT and Dr. Rob Witmer, PhD Motivational Counselor, Sport Specialist, Sebring Florida, in association with www.ScottAdkinsWorld.com (previous www.Fandamme.net.)