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Hello friends, today I will tell you about the quiet man in glasses, the man who was only remembered by his classmates when they felt an urge to make fun of someone, the kind of man who couldn’t stand up for himself – I’m certain each of you had someone like that in your school. But few people think about how the lives of these people turn out after they leave school. Some of them become hermits, living their lives withdrawn from society choosing to accept their quiet nature, while others decide that they’ve had enough and choose to turn their life around.

Few people know that one of those quiet people was an idol of millions- the actor of the iconic era of the 90s and the early 2000s, the person who made whole families gather in front of an old tv and the one who does the perfect roundhouse kick. Yes, friends, I’m talking about Jean-Claude Van Damme.

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The real name of the action star is Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. The future star was born far from the Hollywood hills in one of the Brussels communities. His parents lived very poorly. Jean-Claude’s father worked as an ordinary Belgian accountant and his mother sold flowers in their small family store. Looking at Van Damme now, it’s hard to imagine that he was once a shy and quiet boy with huge glasses. Moreover, the boy got sick often which caused him to miss school a lot and that obviously didn’t help him get accepted. His hobby was yet another reason for him to get mocked. He did ballet. It was his mother who insisted on this rather unusual hobby for her son because she saw the boy’s innate sense of rhythm and grace. And even despite Van Damme’s lack of desire, he was still good at it, even though he had to go to ballet classes while all his classmates were playing football in the schoolyard.

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Later, he even performed at the Paris Opera. And as Jean-Claude admitted many years later, it was ballet that taught him to love classical music and had an important impact on the development of his personality. However, friends, we don’t know how the boy’s life would have turned out, or even if we’d be talking about him today, if things didn’t change one day. The roundhouse kicks that became Jean-Claude’s trademark were not a gift from nature but the fruit of his hard work. Of course, this doesn’t seem to fit with the image of a ballet dancer.

One day, when the boy was already 11 years old, Van Damme’s father got tired of watching his son get bullied by his peers all the time. The father always told his firstborn that it was important to learn to stand up for himself. And thus, having lost his patience one day, the man took his son to Karate classes. Not everyone who gets into martial arts becomes successful in sports. Children who don’t have excellent physique give up very quickly but Jean-Claude never left things halfway.

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The famous French karateka, Dominique Valera, became Van Damme’s mentor. At first, the Belgian boy didn’t seem any different from anyone else but soon the sensei saw the young man’s fighting spirit and character. Much of his initial success was primarily due to the fact that the boy was in great physical shape thanks to the ballet. He could easily raise his leg over his head and his hits were straight and accurate. Moreover, the young karateka had nothing to do at home or on the street. So, the gym became his favorite place to spend time at. Thus, the young man’s technique was getting better each year and it was no longer possible to ignore his progress at the amateur level.

Between 11 and 16 years old, Jean-Claude was still trying to achieve something at school but it was the Karate classes that became his second home. Since his relationship with school wasn’t exactly working out, Jean-Claude made an important decision to quit school at the age of 16, to be able to fully commit himself to sports. The young karateka trained a lot and participated in the most prestigious competitions. But the turning point was the tournament in which Van Damme managed to defeat his opponent who was twice his age and much heavier. He later admitted that at that moment, he took revenge on all of his offenders and turned a new leaf on his life, as they say.

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The young man’s passion was so great that in the late 70s, he received a black belt. He then went to the European Championship for professional athletes, where he defeated an experienced German athlete, Patrick Teugels in the final fight. Needless to say, it was a real triumph. The quiet boy in huge glasses has achieved tremendous success in martial arts. It would seem that the transformation of the ugly duckling was complete. But that was only the beginning.

After all, Jean-Claude continued to participate in various tournaments as part of the Belgian National Karate Team. And in 1979, he fought against the American kickboxer, Sherman Bergman. No one believed in the young Belgian man. But he finished the fight with a knockout in the 59th second and that’s when everyone started taking him seriously. In 1980, the 20 year old athlete defeated British champion Michael Heming and Van Damme’s overall record was 20 and 2. 20 wins, of which 13 were knockouts and 7 were technical knockouts, and 2 losses by decision of the judges.




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All of this allowed the former nerd to get a little closer to joining the sporting elite. And in the early 80s, Van Damme was even invited to become a sparring partner of Chuck Norris himself, who had already managed to star in several films by that time and was the owner of a network of Karate schools in the United States. Chuck had a total of 32 schools. And he was the first one to realize that fighting in front of a camera was much more profitable financially than proving something in the ring.

Well, by that time, our hero finally stopped being in the shadow of a school nerd and began to enjoy attention from the opposite sex. His first marriage was very unexpected. The karateka chose María Rodríguez to become his wife. To be honest, Van Damme didn’t really see a happy future for this relationship but he knew that María had rich parents and therefore, decided to marry her. He wanted to secure the financial support necessary to start his new life, like most of us.

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The attractive young man spent his first money he got from fees and victories on an expensive car, a fancy home, and all kinds of entertainment. The rest of the money, he invested into opening the California Fitness Center. It could all be seen as successful success. But Belgium suddenly started feeling too small for Jean-Claude. Thus, he decided to move to the United States with his friend Qissi so that he could conquer Hollywood.

Many of us envy the American dream and Van Damme was no exception. However, as we all know, only those who are ready to work hard and fight for their place in the sun can achieve success in the United States. This country doesn’t accept anyone with open arms. And it just so happened that the young and inexperienced Jean-Claude didn’t take into account this important issue. After moving, he was faced with a problem which he hadn’t even thought of before- the language barrier.

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For some reason, the young karateka was sure that everyone in the States spoke French fluently and when he was already overseas, he couldn’t even put two words together in English, often looking ridiculous without even the basic ability to go to the store, because even there, no one could understand him. But Jean-Claude decided to master the unfamiliar English language on his own. He began to watch popular TV shows and cartoons which, along with the lack of support from a professional teacher, negatively affected his results.

Van Damme developed such a specific accent that many people couldn’t even understand which state he was from, or maybe, he was from another planet. But oddly enough, this didn’t actually become a problem but rather turned into his advantage. Van Damme’s accent would later become yet another one of his special features, like his roundhouse kicks and his exceptional body.

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As time passed, his relationship with his first wife came to a dead end. And that’s when some of our hero’s most unpleasant times began. The ambitious karateka didn’t succeed in conquering Hollywood right away. So he had to take on all sorts of part-time jobs. He accepted virtually any job he could get in order to make a living. He worked as a bouncer in a nightclub, as a waiter and even as a courier. I think many of us would have started to lose heart. But Jean-Claude’s childhood taught him that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and that he had to continue trying.

The Belgian man went to numerous auditions but every time he either got rejected or got episodic roles, although, in relatively successful projects Rue Barbecue, Monaco Forever, Missing in Action, Breakin’. In all of these movies, Van Damme can be seen somewhere far in the back but he didn’t give up and kept going to auditions. He believed that sooner or later, he just had to get noticed. The aspiring actor got his first serious part only in 1986. He played the role of the Russian fighter Ivan Kraschinsky in the iconic movie No Retreat, No Surrender. Of course, it didn’t bring him international fame, but it did give him more confidence in his abilities. It reassured Van Damme that he was heading in the right direction. And by the way, it was then that due to the difficult pronunciation of his name, Jean-Claude Van Varenberg changed it to Jean-Claude Van Damme in memory of his deceased friend.

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I’m not sure many of you know that it was Van Damme who was supposed to play the role of the Predator in the movie Predator. According to the producer’s original ideas, The Predator was supposed to know military fighting techniques similar to martial arts. But in the end Van Damme was replaced by another actor, Kevin Peter Hall.

According to the official version, the reason for this decision was the change of The Predator’s concept to focus more on physical strength. After all, next to the tall athletes of Dutch’s team who fought against The Predator, the relatively short Van Damme looked rather small. And frankly, it’s hard to say whether it was for better or worse. Because the prospect of running around in a mask during the whole movie and never showing your face wasn’t exactly great. Not many people even bothered to think about the man playing the role of The Predator. Can you imagine finding out that it was Jean-Claude Van Damme? That’d be strange, right? But that was only the beginning.




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The young actor got noticed by the famous producer, Menahem Golan. He was captivated by the way Jean-Claude had perfect control of his body. There is a legend going around in Hollywood saying that it wasn’t exactly Golan who’s known Jean-Claude but rather that Van Damme made sure the producer paid attention to him. He literally took Menahem’s office by storm and then spent several hours eloquently describing his acting talents. As they say, fortune favors the bold. Golan believed in Jean-Claude and invested $1 million into promoting him. Getting in with the famous producer was hard but after much persuasion, the unknown aspiring actor got the role in Bloodsport in 1988.

It’s worth mentioning that this movie script had been gathering dust on the producer’s table for 2 years and thus, the $1 million budget wasn’t a problem for it. Besides, Van Damme was even willing to work for food. The film was first screened in Malaysia, then in France and only then, in the United States. No one really believed that the movie could be successful. But according to the box office, it was a huge success worldwide. The movie grossed a total of over $30 million with a budget of $1 million. And it was this seemingly run-of-the-mill action movie that made a star out of the simple Belgian boy. His character in the film even served as the inspiration for the Johnny Cage character in the computer game Mortal Kombat. Looking at him, young people around the world went to take Karate classes and began to play sports.

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After Menahem and Jean-Claude reached an agreement, Van Damme got a part in Kickboxer. You can’t really say that these were expensive projects for the United States. They didn’t have huge budgets but they did well at the box office. And when they were released on tape, they were very well received, especially in Russia. It is probably thanks to these movies that many of us got to see the Belgian karateka and his infamous roundhouse kick. And then in a very short time, Van Damme had finally become famous. His paycheck was still far from the A-list actors but the first taste of fame was very encouraging. The recently successful actor further increased his popularity by playing in Cyborg, Lionheart, Double Impact, and many other iconic films. And this finally made Hollywood start talking about him.

Gaining experience and working on himself, Van Damme began to get roles in A-list movies; Universal Soldier, Hard Target, Nowhere to Run and Predestination. Thus, he soon stood on par with such action stars as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And his fee grew from a bowl of soup and two hamburgers to $8 million per film.

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Critics even suggested that the Belgian karateka might be able to oust the unshakable leaders of that time, Stallone and Schwarzenegger from their pedestal. And even though Van Damme seemed to be a confident and successful fighter on screen, those roundhouse kicks could tear down walls, in everyday life, he was an ordinary person just like all of us with his weaknesses and temptations. As it turned out later, Jean-Claude did not pass his popularity test. He would later admit that he associated his peak acting popularity times primarily with his drug addiction. Few people know but the idol of millions used up to 10 g of cocaine daily in the 90s. And he lived his days like animated fragments of a movie. In addition, fame got to the young actor’s head. He was often noticed as being wasteful, making a lot of expensive purchases. Every time he got noticed by the media, he was with a different woman and during the time he lived in a daze, he even managed to get married and divorced several times. We all know how Show business works. Celebrities don’t get to hide their skeletons in the closet for a long time. And soon, the media shocked the public with the news that Jean-Claude was arrested by the police for driving under the influence of drugs. Thus, his acting career slowed down and Van Damme went to rehab.

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However, he didn’t get the desired results there. The actor was well aware that he had to take matters into his own hands. So, he decided to go a different way, adhering to a rather strange method. Jean-Claude went cold turkey. This is the hardest way to get off drugs. This method requires an abrupt and complete cessation of drug use. This is a very painful and risky process. Using this method can have negative health consequences. But Jean-Claude couldn’t do it any other way. He has always been a fan of strong-willed and radical decisions. Therefore, it wasn’t at all surprising when the media reported that Van Damme had overcome his addiction and was ready to return to acting.

In the late 90s, the action genre began to lose popularity. And after a number of successful roles in the actor’s career, a projected slowdown began. The Quest, released in 1996, was the first movie directed by Van Damme. He also wrote the screenplay and was the producer. However, the movie barely broke even at the box office. Sudden Death, Maximum Risk, Double Team and Knockoff, released shortly after, weren’t exactly successful either. Despite the improvement of Van Damme’s acting skills, the movie’s Legionnaire, Replicant, In Hell and Wake of Death also weren’t very successful.

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Jean-Claude was only able to return to the list of Hollywood’s best actors at the beginning of the 2000s. It was his new marriage that had the final impact. Van Damme married his third wife Gladys Portugues. The actor admits that it was Gladys who helped him get rid of the chaos in his life and get back on the right track. Jean-Claude couldn’t even have imagined at the time that the main battle of his life was still ahead and it wasn’t going to be yet another action movie.

Van Damme got diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To keep his condition under control, he had to take medications on a regular basis, which was an additional risk for the former addict. However, Van Damme managed to keep himself in check and continued to work on his career. The 2000s became the time of Jean-Claude’s revival. In a couple of years, he starred in a host of iconic movies that had tremendous success at the box office; Inferno, Universal Soldier, The Order, The Double. But with each new movie, Jean-Claude’s fame gradually faded. Although Hollywood itself has also changed by that time, people got tired of movies with big men doing roundhouse kicks. And besides, there were new and younger actors who were just as good at it.

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The peak of Van Damme’s career lasted until 2009, when the third Universal Soldier was released. The main parts in the movie were played by the stars of the first film; Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. However, this movie didn’t even make it to movie theaters. It went straight to video. It was after this moment that the Belgian legend began to gradually go off the radar. There were a couple of other projects but none of them made it to the big screens. But despite all that, Jean-Claude did manage to make a comeback in 2012, getting a role in Stallone’s The Expendables. Van Damme played the main villain. Sylvester decided to gather all the great actors who were once famous but were no longer in demand and whom the public had forgotten. And even though the movie’s greatness can be questioned, film critics and viewers highly appreciated Van Damme’s work. The charismatic Belgian actor has received a prestigious award for his role as Best Villain.

As we talk about Jean-Claude today, we just don’t take his filmography into account but also, his personal life. The American media regularly recognized Van Damme as the most desirable man. And it’s probably not surprising that he was married as many as 5 times. I don’t think that the actor himself would be able to count all of his romantic interests. But the current wife of the Belgian actor, Gladys Portugues, didn’t only give birth to Jean-Claude’s son Christopher but was also able to get him to settle down. Gladys was also a successful athlete, a bodybuilding champion. However, after the birth of her son, she left the sport and devoted herself to raising Christopher. Jean-Claude divorced her in 1992, exchanging her for younger women. But time has shown that those relationships were fleeting. Jean-Claude and Gladys got engaged in 1999 and Van Damme has been living with her ever since. It was Portugues who supported Jean-Claude during his difficult times. She helped the actor to overcome his drug addiction and come to terms with his psychological disorder.

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Today, Jean-Claude does producing and directing and even writes scripts. His unusual French accent made the 90s star a sought-after voice actor. The cartoon characters from Minions to Kung Fu Panda speak in his voice. Even though Van Damme still continues to act in movies, it’s no secret for anyone that Van Damme’s career has long been in decline. He regularly stars in films but few of us watch these kinds of movies nowadays. And they only get about 3 out of 10 stars on various specialized platforms. Frankly, Jean-Claude mostly plays in 3rd-rate movies now, which makes it difficult to even call him a B-list actor. Yes, it’s possible that he couldn’t adjust, as the time for action movies remained in the 90s. But in any case, he did earn millions.

The idol of millions regularly appeared in popular Western shows. He’s also very popular on Instagram. And Jean-Claude uses his blog to communicate with fans, regularly doing live broadcasts. In addition to his achievements in sports and acting, Jean-Claude Van Damme is famous for his amazing flexibility. What didn’t the Belgian actor do? He did splits in a jump and between two chairs but the most memorable was the epic split.

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In 2013, Van Damme, who was 53 years old at the time, starred in an ad for Volvo trucks. The actor performed gymnastic splits between two moving trucks. According to him, it was the most epic split he had ever done. The video was filmed in Spain on a closed part of the highway. It was filmed on the first take and without the green screen. Van Damme performed the most complicated trick personally.

And here’s a bit of a strange story from Van Damme’s personal life. As I said earlier, the actor has been officially married to Gladys Portugues for many years. However, loyal fans know that the artist lives with a completely different woman. For about 11 years, the action star has been in a happy relationship with Ukrainian Elena Kaverina. And even though the couple doesn’t exactly advertise their romance, we can often see Jean-Claude next to Elena in the pictures. Apparently, the star lives with two families and in two countries. He is an exemplary family man in America. And then he goes to live with Elena in Europe. There isn’t much information about her online. She was born in Krivoy Rog and met her famous boyfriend in 2009 at a Thai resort. The beautiful Ukrainian woman managed to charm the actor so much that they traveled back together and he never let her go. Jean-Claude often flies on a private plane with Elena and also stays in hotels with her.

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I don’t think any of us really thought back in our childhoods that the iconic actors looking at us from the posters in our rooms, the ones who were giving us confidence, they were regular people, just like us, with their own problems and imperfections. Jean-Claude Van Damme underwent a complex transformation from being bullied by schoolmates to being loved by millions. He became a successful A-list actor and his signature kicks and elegant accent could have probably kept pleasing the audience to this day. But many factors intervened. One thing is certain, the story of the Belgian boy who became an idol of millions is very enlightening. First of all, it teaches us to never deviate from the intended path and continue believing in ourselves, even when no one else does. Jean-Claude made himself and achieved success without rich parents or patrons. It’s true, he’s not perfect and he never was. He made mistakes and admitted to them. But nevertheless, he was and still remains a sincere person with a radiant smile. And that might be why we love him so much. Well, and also because many of us associate him with the cheerful and carefree time of our childhood and youth.

Friends, what exactly was it that made you remember Jean-Claude Van Damme? And what’s your favorite movie with him? The one that will always have a special place in your heart. Be sure to share in the comments. And that’s all for today. Don’t forget to like the video. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next time.




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