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Real Name: Jean-Claude Van Varenberg
Birthday: October 18, 1960
Place of Birth: Brussels, Belgium
Nickname: The muscles from Brussels

 


From his arrival in the United States in 1983 at age 22, Jean-Claude Van Damme had only one desire - to be a movie star and sexy celebrity. Stunning and masculine, he studied martial arts from the time he was twelve and in due course won the European Professional Karate Association's middleweight championship while still a young teen boy. The Belgian, who was born Jean-Claude Van Varenberg, operated the California Gym in his home town before traveling to Hong Kong where he worked as a young model. In 1982, he relocated to Hollywood with the single goal of becoming a celebrity and action star.

Taking different acting names during his career, he survived by working various small jobs. Hired and cast in his first feature film, the 1983 French film "Rue Barbere", he argued with the production staff and either quit or was fired, depending on whose story you believe. After easily landing his first acting role, as a gay hitchhiker in the film "Monaco Forever" (1984), was then cast in a central role as the Russian challenger to an American karate student in "No Retreat No Surrender" (1986).

After meeting producer Menahem Golan at a Beverly Hills restaurant, the action star showed his unique offering to the martial arts world: executing a karate kick to his opponent's head during a astonishing 360-degree jump. Impressed, the producer hired him for "Bloodsport" (1988), which has gained a reputation as a minor classic. The film made a remarkable $45 million at the box office, helping the actor to live his dream of becoming a movie star and sexy celebrity.

Different then the other current and popular action heroes, Van Damme showed a kinder personality. He was not as armored as Schwarzenegger, or as crude as Stallone. Also, his outstanding physical capability made him different. There is a limit to the audience base for a Jean-Claude movie and while some of his movie roles have been financially successful, none have reached blockbuster status in the United States. On the other hand, worldwide his star  power is huge.

The actors movies in the late 1980's and early 1990's were simple formulas, requiring him to speak little dialog, show as much of his muscular body as possible and kick the ass of the bad guys. At the same time, the actor was taking on more tasks during productions, working on second unit tasks and developing scripts, dialogs and storylines such as with "Kickboxer" (1988), and later producing "Double Impact" (1991) and directing "The Quest" (1996). Although smart enough to partner himself with Hong Kong masters, like John Woo ("Hard Target" 1993), Ringo Lam ("Maximum Risk" 1996) and Tsui Hark ("Double Team" 1997 and "Knock Off" 1998), the end results have all been small additions in his filmographies.

A good self marketer, he always gives very honest press interviews, often associated with the release of new movies. His private life, including his four marriages and many lawsuits, have elements found in soap operas played on a very public media and the tabloid obsessed world of Hollywood. Since the mid 1990's, he has made casual comments about his fight with drug abuse, saying he spent a decade addicted to drugs and sleeping pills, and many years abusing the drug cocaine. 

Despite being on the edge of becoming a sexy celebrity on many occasions, especially with the 1992 "Universal Soldier", and the more vivid "Nowhere to Run" (1993), he remained trapped in the action adventure world of type casting. Unlike Stallone or Schwarzenegger, he has not yet found that crucial movie role. He has said publicly that he has kicked his drug addictions and is looking for that movie role that will gain the esteem of movie audiences and the Hollywood tabloid obsessed media army.

He then continued his action films with "Hard Target" (1993) about a woman who hires a drifter as her guide through New Orleans in search of her father. The actor then followed with "Timecop" (1994) about an officer for a security agency that regulates time travel, must fight for his life against a crooked politician who has a connection to his past. He was then hired and cast in "Street Fighter" (1994), and "Sudden Death" (1995), the story about a disgraced former fireman who takes on a group of terrorists holding the Vice President and others hostage

He appeared in two action films during 2006 including "The Quest" (1996) starring Roger Moore, and "Maximum Risk" (1996) about a policeman who takes his brother's place and is left with his problems and a beautiful girlfriend. The action veteran started of the next year with "Double Team" (1997) featuring Mickey Rourke, and then appeared in the action thriller "Knock Off" (1988) with Saturday Night Live veteran and funny man Rob Schneider, about a fashion designer who must join forces with a CIA agent to fight a terror cell. The actors last film of the year was "Legionnaire" (1998) about a boxer paid by a Marseille mobster to take a dive.

Slowing down, but not stopping, he appeared in the expected sequel "Universal Soldier: The Return" (1999) before taking a role in the thriller "Inferno" with Pat Morita. After taking a year away from the movie set, he moved into 2001 with "Replicant" (2001) and then "The Order" (2001) starring Charlton Heston, where a mans father, who is an archaeologist, goes to Israel and mysteriously disappears. Next was "Derailed" (2002) about an out of control train holding hostages and high-tech bio-weapons. The star had only one film released in 2003 titled "In Hell", about a man who must survive a prison where hardened criminals battle to the death for the warden's amusement.

The following year he appeared in two films, "Narco" (2004) and "Wake Of Death" (2004) about an ex-cop who wages war against the Chinese authorities. Next was "Second In Command" (2004) where he plays an official who's just been appointed as second in command to the United States Ambassador at an American Embassy in a small hostile country. The following year he starred in the thrillers "The Hard Cops" (2006) with sexy Vivica A. Fox, about a combat Vet who's just spent the last 3 years fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

After another year off to let his body heal from years of action thriller movie making, he bounced back with "Until Death" (2008) where he played a dirty cop who is hooked on heroin and other drugs, and everyone hates him. Next was "The Shepherd: Border Patrol" (2008) about a Texas cop who battles ex-navy seals who are trying to traffic drugs from Mexico into the United States. 

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