From his arrival in the USA in 1981 at age 21, Jean-Claude Van Damme harbored only one dream, to become a movie star. Handsome and muscular, he studied martial arts from the time he was 11 and eventually won the European Professional Karate Association’s middleweight championship while in his late teens. The Belgian, who was born Jean-Claude Van Varenberg, reportedly operated the California Gym in his native land before traveling to Hong Kong (where he briefly worked as a model). In 1981, he settled in Hollywood with the expressed goal of becoming a movie star.
Adopting various stage names like Frank Cujo and Jean-Claude Vandam, he made ends meet in a variety of odd jobs. Cast in his first feature, the 1983 French film "Rue Barbere", he clashed with the director and either quit or was fired (depending on whose version one believes). After finally getting his first acting role, as a gay hitchhiker in the short "Monaco Forever" (1984), Van Damme finally landed a major role as the Russian opponent to an American karate student in "No Retreat No Surrender" (1986). After approaching producer Menahem Golan outside a Beverly Hills restaurant, Van Damme demonstrated his unique contribution to the martial arts genre: executing a karate kick to his opponent’s head during an impressive 360-degree leap. Suitably impressed, the producer hired him for "Bloodsport" (1988), which has acquired status as a minor cult classic. The low-budget film earned an impressive $35 million box office, helping Van Damme to partially achieve his goal to become a movie star.
Unlike the other contemporary popular action heroes, Van Damme projected a softer character. He was not as invincible as Schwarzenegger nor as unrefined as Stallone. Also, his impressive physicality (in nearly every Van Damme film, he executes a masterful split) set him apart. Yet, he was not as mainstream as the others. There is a finite fan base for a Van Damme film and while some of his movies have been money-makers, none have achieved blockbuster status in the USA. On the other hand, worldwide his appeal is unchallenged.
Van Damme’s vehicles in the late 1980s and early 90s were fairly formulaic, requiring him to speak little, display as much of his muscular physique as possible and kick butt. At the same time, the actor was shouldering more and more responsibilities, moving into second unit work and providing storylines ("Kickboxer" 1988) and later producing ("Double Impact" 1991) and even directing ("The Quest" 1996). Although savvy enough to ally 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 results have been minor entries in the directors’ filmographies.
A scrappy self-promoter, Van Damme has often given startlingly candid interviews, often timed to the release of new films. His personal life, including his four marriages and several lawsuits, has elements of a soap opera played on a very public stage. Since the mid-90s, Van Damme has made passing references to his struggles with substance abuse, claiming to have spent 10-years addicted to sleeping pills and several more abusing cocaine. Despite seeming on the verge of becoming a breakthrough success on several occasions, notably with 1992’s "Universal Soldier" and the more dramatic "Nowhere to Run" (1993), he remains mired in the action genre. Unlike Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Van Damme has yet to find that crossover role. Reportedly, he has kicked his drug problems and is searching for that film that will earn the respect of moviegoers and the Hollywood establishment.
daughter:Bianca Van Varenberg
father:Eugene Van Varenberg
mother:Eliana Van Varenberg
sister:Veronique Van Varenberg
son:Kristopher Van Varenberg
son:Nicholas Van Varenberg
Darcy La Pier.wife,
2004 Guest-stars as himself on an episode of NBC’s "Las Vegas"
1999 Arrested in September for driving under the influence; in July 2000 placed on three years’ probation and fined $1200 after pleading no contest; also ordered to attend a 90-day anti-drunk driving progr
1998 Sued for $1.5 million by former trainer Frank Dux who claimed to have worked on the film "The Quest"; jury sided with Van Damme
1998 Admitted in interviews to a cocaine addiction
1998 Starred in "Knock Off", directed by Tsui Hark
1997 First of two features with Tsui Hark, "Double Team"
1996 Directorial debut "The Quest"; also starred
1996 Had dual role as twins in "Maximum Risk", helmed by Ringo Lamb
1996 First underwent treatment for substance abuse in December; left 30-day program after one week
1994 Had title role in "Timecop"
1993 Appeared as himself in a cameo in "The Last Action Hero"
1993 Teamed with HK director John Woo for "Hard Target"
1991 Film debut as a producer, "Double Impact"; also played dual lead, served as fight choreographer and wrote script
1991 Began shooting "Universal Solider", the first film in a reported eight-picture deal with Columbia Pictures and Carolco
1990 Debut as a screenwriter, "Lionheart"; also starred
1989 Sued for "willfully" gouging the eye of an extra in a sword fight while filming "Cyborg"; lost the case
1988 First starring role, "Bloodsport", co-produced by Golan
1988 First film as 2nd unit director, "Kickboxer"; also credited for story and choreography; also essayed starring role
1986 Approached producer Menahem Golan outside a Beverly Hills restaurant and demonstrated his martial arts prowess
1984 Film debut as The Homosexual in the short "Monaco Forever"; billed as Jean-Claude Vandam
1984 First American film credit, coordinating stunts for "Missing in Action"
1983 Changed name to Jean-Claude Van Damme after the release of the feature film "Cujo"
1981 Moved to USA; worked as limo and taxi driver, bouncer, carpet installer and pizza delivery man while studying English and trying to make first US film
1971 Began studying martial arts at age 11 (date approximate) Turned professional after earning black belt in Shotokan (Japanese-style karate) Adopted the stage name Frank Cujo Hired to play a villain in the French film "Rue Barbere" (1983); walked off project when he clashed with the director Built a gymnasium business while in late teens; modeled and endorsed products Sold gymnasium and moved to Hong Kong to work in martial art films