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Jean-Claude Van Damme
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Jean-Claude Van Damme

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Belgium-born action-film star Jean-Claude Van Damme has showcased his patented splits and acrobatic kicks in such movies as 'Bloodsport.'

Who Is Jean-Claude Van Damme?

Jean-Claude Van Damme is a champion martial artist and bodybuilder as a teenager, he used his physical abilities to become the star of such American action flicks as Bloodsport (1988) and Double Impact (1991). Van Damme endured personal and professional difficulties beginning in the 1990s, but has since regained some of his star power.

Early Years and Career

Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg was born on October 18, 1960, in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium. A skinny child, he began studying Shotokan karate at age 11, and also eagerly took to weightlifting and ballet. As a teenager, Van Damme won the middleweight championship of the European Professional Karate Association and was named "Mr. Belgium" in a bodybuilding competition.

Van Damme opened a gym in Brussels and earned some modeling work, but he was enthralled with the idea of becoming a film star. After briefly attempting to break into the thriving martial-arts movie industry in Hong Kong, China, he moved to Los Angeles, California, in the early 1980s to pursue his Hollywood dreams.

Big-Screen Stardom

Originally calling himself "Frank Cujo," Van Damme received bit parts in feature films and worked as a cab driver, waiter, aerobics instructor and nightclub bouncer as he tried to make a name for himself in Tinseltown. He was featured in the 1986 martial-arts flick No Retreat, No Surrender, but his big break came after he displayed his ability to perform a jumping, 360-degree "helicopter kick" to B-list producer Menahem Golan, who cast the unknown actor in Bloodsport (1988). The low-budget film grossed a surprising $35 million at the box office, and Van Damme followed with another successful starring role in Kickboxer the following year.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 09: Actress Irene Bedard attends the premiere of Vox Box Entertainment's "Ron and Laura Take Back America" at Sundance Cinema on March 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

Irene Bedard

Joy Harjo, writer during 2005 Sundance Film Festival - "A Thousand Roads" Portraits at HP Portrait Studio in Park City, Utah, United States. (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage)

Joy Harjo

Over the following decade, Van Damme filled the big screen in such action flicks as Double Impact (1991), Universal Soldier (1992), Time Cop (1994), Sudden Death (1995) and Maximum Risk (1996), overcoming his limited acting chops with his acrobatic kicks and patented splits. He made his directorial debut with The Quest (1996), but Double Team (1997) and Knock Off (1998) were flops, and by the start of the 2000s most of his movies landed in the straight-to-video bin.

In 2008, Van Damme resurfaced as a fictionalized version of himself in the part-satirical, part-confessional JCVD. His performance drew positive reviews and triggered something of a revival for the former action star, who went on to reprise a familiar role in Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2010) and voice the character of Master Croc in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011). In 2012, Van Damme was back in his element as part of the veteran butt-kicking ensemble featured in Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables 2.

Personal Life

Van Damme became addicted to cocaine and sleeping pills while at the height of his stardom in the 1990s and was arrested for DUI in 1999. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder during this period, though his condition improved after he began taking medication and got his personal life in order.

Van Damme has been married five times and has three children. Two of them, Kris Van Varenberg and Bianca Bree, have followed in their father's footsteps as actors.

In October 2012, Van Damme was honored with the unveiling of a bronze statue in his native Brussels. The statue depicts the former martial-arts champion in a classic fighting pose, ready to launch one of his famous flying kicks.

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