Also Credited As:Frank Cujo, Jean Claude VanDamme, Jean-Claude Van Varenberg, Jean-Claude Vandam
|Actor, Director, Producer, Writer, Editor, Choreographer, Physical Effects, Below The Line|
|October 18, 1960|
Born on Oct. 18, 1960 in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium, van Damme was raised by his father, Eugene, a florist and accountant, and his mother, Eliana. When he was 11 years old, van Damme began martial arts training and earned a black belt in Shotokan karate, winning the European Professional Karate Association's middleweight championship while still in his late teens. After touring internationally as a competitor on the professional karate and kickboxing circuits, he opened his own gym in his hometown of Brussels. His moderate level of renown in the bodybuilding and martial arts industries led to some modeling work and product endorsements, and with stars in his eyes, Van Damme spent some time in Hong Kong trying to break into martial arts films. By the time he was 21 years old, he was set on the idea of parlaying his background into a career as a movie star. Not surprisingly, he moved to Hollywood, trying out various stage names like Frank Cujo - which he dropped upon the release of the horror film of the same name - and Jean-Claude Vandam, while taking a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet.
After getting his feet wet in Hollywood with small background roles, Van Damme landed a co-lead in the moderate martial arts cult classic "No Retreat, No Surrender" (1986), starring as the Russian opponent of an American karate student. A chance meeting with producer Menahem Golan outside a Beverly Hills restaurant, where Van Damme demonstrated a karate kick to another person's head during an impressive 360-degree leap, led to his casting in "Bloodsport" (1988). One of the most well-known titles of Van Damme's career, the low-budget film earned an impressive $35 million in box office and its popularity helped Van Damme partially achieve his goal of becoming a movie star. He had first billing in the panned sci-fi actioner "Cyborg" (1989) but rebounded to star in another of his more memorable films, "Kickboxer" (1989). Van Damme contributed the storyline to this martial arts extravaganza, which highlighted his unique blend of fighting techniques and his rare ability to do splits. The film brought in a sturdy $10 million in box office against a $1.5 million budget.
Van Damme debuted as a producer with "Double Impact" (1991), his first certifiable hit, which drew a huge international audience with its gimmicky plot that doubled the actor's screen time by having him play twin brothers. "Universal Soldier" (1992) was panned by critics as a "Terminator" (1984) rip-off, but it still surpassed even the worldwide success of "Double Impact." "The muscles from Brussels," as he was nicknamed, seemed on the verge of a crossover success from martial arts films to major Hollywood action star, on par with Stallone or Schwarzenegger. Van Damme hoped his starring role as an escaped convict who becomes involved with a single mother in the drama "Nowhere to Run" (1993) would earn the respect of moviegoers and the Hollywood establishment, but it actually drew far less crowds than his standard, non-stop fight fests. Van Damme found a successful medium ground with the sci-fi thriller "Time Cop" (1994), which hit blockbuster status and even had critics reluctantly admitting that the star had made some progress with his acting chops. His follow-up "Sudden Death" (1995), however, was lost in a sea of that year's holiday blockbusters.
In the first of several collaborations with Hong Kong director Ringo Lam, Van Damme brought in respectable box office sales for his starring role as a French cop avenging the death of a co-worker in "Maximum Risk" (1996). The same year, he made his own feature directing debut with the international martial arts picture "The Quest," which fared less well than most of his previous releases. "Double Team" (1997) and "Knock Off" (1998) ultimately represented minor entries in the filmography of Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, and by 1999, Van Damme's inability to establish staying power among filmg rs led to the straight-to-video release, "Inferno." Amid confessions by the actor that he had struggled for over a decade with drug additions to sleeping pills and cocaine, he lost his grip as a Hollywood contender and retreated to a steady stream of clichéd violence, including Lam's "Replicant" (2001) and "In Hell" (2003). The theatrical release "Wake of Death" earned Van Damme a few hopeful reviews, but the actor stayed below the Hollywood radar for much of the new century.
Van Damme persistently tried to recapture his past stardom, but could only muster a series of discount video bin roles as soldiers and cops in "Sinav" (2006) and "Til Death" (2007), while making a cameo appearance as himself for an episode of "Las Vegas" (NBC, 2003-08). In 2008, he surfaced unexpectedly on the art house circuit in "JCVD" (2008), an inventive, satirical look at fame starring Van Damme as himself. The actor earned some of the best critical notices of his career for his portrayal as an aging, increasingly irrelevant former star being sued by ex-wives and in search of life's meaning when he finds himself at the center of a real-life hostage situation. Critics were amazed by the actor's previously unseen acting skill, comfort, and even poignancy on screen, though the limited release indie was only accessible to a scant few audiences. Unable to translate the good reviews into more dramatic work, Van Damme once again joined Dolph Lundgren for "Universal Soldier: Regeneration" (2010) and voiced Master Croc for the hit animated sequel "Kung Fu Panda 2" (2011). Finally able to regain some of his 1980s glory, Van Damme joined fellow muscle heads Jason Stratham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Terry Crews for Sylvester Stallone's action extravaganza, "The Expendables 2" (2012).