Nobody throws a punch like Chuck Norris. His physical skill and charismatic acting have graced our TV screens for 45 years, making Norris a household name and an icon of popular culture.
So why is the supreme martial arts expert going into retirement in 2018? It turns out that real-life battles have overtaken on-screen battles, and Norris is needed. He’s leaving acting to fight for his family.
Norris was actually born “Carlos Ray Norris” and wasn’t called “Chuck” until he served in the U.S. Air Force. At the same time as sporting the nickname that would accompany him throughout his career, Norris had his first exposure to martial arts. He loved it, and trained hard before winning a middleweight karate championship in 1968.
His star rose swiftly in the karate circuit. Norris even opened a studio that became a popular haunt for celebrity clientele. Norris counted Steve McQueen, Priscilla Presley, and the Osmonds amongst his clients, the first of whom became a friend and encouraged him into acting.
Norris appreciated the connection between martial arts and the movies, and with his exemplary skills, it wasn’t long before he landed his first role in the 1968 film The Wrecking Crew. His close friend, Bruce Lee, then led him into his role in the cult martial arts action comedy Way of the Dragon.
Norris’s following grew during the 80s, but the industry didn’t appear to support a longevous future for him in film. He looked, instead, toward television. A seminal role in Walker, Texas Ranger lasted for eight seasons and cemented his success. Arguably, Norris had found his niche.
He established the World Combat League in 2005 and pioneered “Chun Kuk Do,” a hybrid martial arts style based on his own training in Tang Soo Do. Norris also put pen to paper in the later years of his career, writing nine books. Two made the New York Times bestseller list.
But before long, family issues began to encroach on Norris’s professional concerns. Norris married his wife, Gena, in 1998. They had twins in 2001, but a decade later, Gena began to struggle with health issues. She was sent to get an MRI after exhibiting symptoms of arthritis and was administered an injection. Unfortunately, she had an intensely adverse reaction that sent her into shock: Gena needed 24-hour inpatient nursing care.
Norris didn’t hesitate: he dropped everything to be by Gena’s side. “My whole life right now is about keeping her alive,” he said at the time. Gena had trouble breathing and also suffered kidney and brain dysfunction. Medical bills quickly surpassed $2 million. Gena herself referred to the medical mishap as “a vicious, ugly secret,” and with the support of her devoted husband, she sued the healthcare institution.
Allegedly, a metal named gadolinium used during the MRI procedure had caused Gena to contract “gadolinium deposition disease.” The couple have been campaigning to raise public awareness of the problem since Gena’s diagnosis. “For all those people that are thinking about getting an MRI, there needs to be some stricter warnings,” Gena told CBS.
The Norris family is closer than ever since Gena’s declining health. Gena is no longer bedridden, and since reclaiming her autonomy she wants to offer a voice to others who have been affected in the same way.
Even Norris’s battle-filled background couldn’t have prepared him for the struggle of witnessing his wife endure poor health. But his choice to prioritize his family over his career is testament to the icon’s heroic persona. For Carlos “Chuck” Norris, family comes first.
Do you have a favorite Chuck Norris moment? Share this article if you think family values should be held above everything else!