ATLANTA — Most would say Chuck Norris has reached the pinnacle of success. A six-time world karate champion, he starred as the hero in more than 23 films and wrote and produced his popular television series, "Walker, Texas Ranger." But success couldn't rescue the Norris family the night they faced a life-threatening crisis.
Norris felt absolutely helpless when his wife, Gena, went into pre-term labor with their unborn twins. But Norris also knew he could rely solely on God. He recounts the events of that frightful night in his new autobiography, "Against All Odds: My Story" with Ken Abraham, published by Broadman & Holman.
"I had earned millions of dollars over my lifetime," he writes. "I'd been a friend to several presidents, yet all the money in my bank account couldn't help me now.... There was only one person to whom I could turn." It was God. He'd been with Norris throughout his life, and this would be no different.
'God Has a Plan for You'
Carlos Ray Norris was born into a family struggling to survive, led by an alcoholic father who moved the family 16 times by the time the future actor turned 15. Norris' mother, a strong Christian and prayer warrior, never gave up or let her children give up despite living in extreme poverty.
"God has a plan for you," she told her son daily, convincing him he could, indeed, beat the odds.
His mother's enormous faith was a great example for the young Norris. It was she who insisted the family go to church wherever they were living. Norris began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at an early age, and he rededicated his life to Christ as a young adult when he attended a Billy Graham crusade.
Norris says his mother continues to be a great influence in his life.
"She loves Jesus with all of her heart and soul and made sure we understood that [growing up,]" he said, following a book signing in Atlanta. "She influenced me spiritually and instilled in me a sense of responsibility that carried over in my later adult life. She always told me 'God has plans for you,' and I didn't know what she meant. I think I do now."
You could say the action star's career "kicked" off as a young airman stationed in Korea studying martial arts. He wasn't initially strong, and success did not come easily, but within eight years, Norris became a martial arts world champion. He holds the distinction of being the first man in the Western hemisphere to receive an eighth degree black belt grand master in Tae Kwon Do.
The chain reaction that followed his success in karate moved him rapidly up the ladder of recognition. His karate championships led him to open a successful chain of karate schools and gain appearances on television, including "The Tonight Show." Eventually Hollywood took notice, and it wasn't long before he was cast in his first feature film.
But while his career path was leading to fame and fortune, his personal life bore the toll. Norris and his first wife, Dianne, divorced after 30 years of marriage. When their two sons grew up and moved away, the long distances and times apart adversely affected their relationship. Despite the divorce, he and Dianne remain friends.
Ten years later, life took a life-changing twist. A letter from a daughter he'd never known turned up in his mailbox. In his first year of marriage, Norris had committed a one-time extramarital affair while stationed away from home. He'd never known the experience had made him a father.
It would be hard for many people of Norris' stature to relay struggles in a book for all to read, but Norris and his new wife see the theme of forgiveness as a big part of their story. His daughter Deanna and her husband are now a part of the family, and there's been emotional healing all around – between Norris and Deanna's mom and Norris and his former wife, and new relationships between his sons and their half-sister.
"These are human frailties; we all have them, we all sin," Norris said. "But as far I'm concerned, the sin that resulted in my daughter turned out to be a blessing. I can't imagine my life without her and her children, my three grandchildren."
From Kick 'Star' to 'KICKSTART'
These days, children are very important to Norris. After a difficult pregnancy, his wife of six years gave birth to healthy twins – a boy and a girl, now age 3. He also continues to work on his KICKSTART program for middle school students. The proceeds of his book will go to KICKSTART.
More than 30,000 kids have graduated from the program, currently found in 37 schools. While the focus of the program is on martial arts, it does a lot more for the kids who participate – many who are from the inner city. It builds their self-esteem.
"Many have gone on to college, and one of our kids just graduated from MIT on a scholarship," Norris said proudly.
It's clear he's passionate about the program, almost as much as he is about his faith. By his own acknowledgement, he's grown deeply in his walk with God in the last 10 years. But Norris gets frustrated at the silent majority of Christians who refuse to speak out on issues of faith.
He and Gena have taken a stand to get the Bible back in public schools. They endorse the National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which aims to incorporate the Bible as part of elective history and literature classes.
So what's next for the soft-spoken action hero? A two-hour "Walker, Texas Ranger" special is planned, as well as the possibility for a new series tied closely to his KICKSTART program. Members of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, he and Gena hope eventually to get involved in missionary work as their children grow older. And, of course, he remains passionate about the KICKSTART program.
"We're hoping to help millions and millions of kids and show them that they don't have to give up," Norris said. "The odds aren't stacked too highly against them to achieve their dreams. I want them to know that if I can overcome the things in my life, there's no reason why any of them can't do the same thing."
© 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.