Setbacks Don't Sour Their Outlook : Ben and Kathryn Perry Fight Back to Pursue Careers

Ben and Kathryn Perry won't be the last in their neighborhood to take down their Christmas tree. They won't take it down at all. The Perrys leave the lavishly decorated tree standing all-year-round in their spacious living area, which looks out on the San Fernando Valley from their Mulholland home.

"When Kathryn and I decided to get married, I took her to Anchorage to meet my family," Ben Perry explained. "It was during the holidays and our house was decorated and everyone was brimming with love and good cheer and Kathryn just lit up. It was the first time she had ever really had a traditional family Christmas.

"When we left, she said she wished it could be Christmas all the time. We looked at each other and said, 'Why not?' "

And so it has been since they married in May, 1984.

For the Perrys, though, life has not been all happiness and celebrations. He has spent a year as an invalid following an auto accident; she has battled to overcome a crippling illness. There is little apparent evidence of those problems, though, as the Perrys pursue their business careers and his specialty of karate instruction.

Perry, 32, born in South Carolina and reared in Georgia, said he was small for his age as a child and was picked on by bullies. He traces the course of his life to a gift from his older brother Skip--a book on karate.

"I read that book three times the first night I had it. The very next day this big guy came up to me and wanted my baseball glove. I said, 'If you can take it, you can have it.' My knees were shaking when I said it. There must have been something about the way I said it, though. He never bothered me again."

By the time he was 16, Perry had his first black belt in karate and currently holds fourth-degree black belts in five styles of the art. He represented the United States at the World Karate Championships in South Korea in 1972.

"I realize now that I learned the most important thing about karate before I even knew one move. It's a mental attitude. I was lucky that guy in school didn't choose to take me on; but even now I teach that the main reason for having this skill is so that you don't have to use it. I do not condone violence, but I do see a need for self-defense."

Perry became chief instructor at Chuck Norris' school in Torrance, training with the would-be film star. This led to the set of "Breaker, Breaker," Norris' first film. In a classic case of right-time-right-place, Perry also found himself flying through a window--his first film stunt.

Although teaching karate brought him enough income to live on, Perry heard that work on the Alaskan pipeline was very lucrative and off he went. (Anchorage is one of his favorite cities and is where he and Kathryn married.) He would occasionally fly back to Los Angeles to appear in what became a string of Chuck Norris movies and was living, he thought at the time, the life of his dreams.

Then an auto accident--he was the passenger--rendered him helpless for a year with a broken back and seizures resulting from a concussion suffered when his head went through the windshield. "Kenny Karate got humble," he says self-mockingly. "All my cockiness left me during that time."

When he was ready to return to work, his appetite for the film industry had been whetted and he became a stunt coordinator, technical adviser and stunt man for such television series as "CHIPs," "Fall Guy," "Walking Tall" and the special "Who Will Love My Children?" Film credits include "The Chill Factor," "I the Jury," "The Kindred," "The Argonauts" and "A Great Ride." In 1983, Perry produced "Diamond in the Rough" (originally dubbed "The Tennessee Stallion"), shot in Georgia and starring Jimmy Van Patten and Audrey and Judy Landers.

At a post-production party, a mutual friend introduced him to the then Kathryn Hughes.

"We talked about karate," Kathryn says. "I had always been fascinated with the martial arts for its self-defense value. I had never been involved in anything very physical because of my arthritis. Any kind of exercise was painful for me."

The raven-haired former John Robert Powers model, who is 28, was afflicted with severe rheumatoid arthritis when she was 8 years old. Born in Washington, D.C., to moderately well-off parents, they moved her to Florida and eventually to Santa Monica to try to alleviate the condition. "While there was nothing the doctors or my parents could do, they believed there was nothing I could do either. They wanted to hospitalize me."

She fought against, and won, that decision; simultaneously knowing that if she could not excel in the physical, she could strive in the cerebral. She got high grades in business classes during several years of study at Santa Monica City College, UCLA, USC and Cal State Northridge. She also dated Mark Hughes, whom she eventually married.

Together they created Herbalife, the profitable but controversial company based on direct sales and multi-level marketing. Kathryn tended the business side of Herbalife because, she says, "I have a talent for seeing a problem and then solving it. . . ."

But when she met Ben Perry, she and Hughes were in the process of a divorce.

Perry persuaded Kathryn that she could do karate without the pain and so the private lessons began. "She attacked karate the same way she attacked business problems," he says. "She would think through a motion before she would attempt it. But when she did it, it was absolutely right."

Perry has taught karate for the blind and rape victims at Sports Connection Health, has given demonstrations in places ranging from prisons to the Los Angeles Police Academy to Disney World and will, he says, respond to any group with a good cause. "But," he warns, "they must be prepared for some philosophizing at the end of the instruction."

What he imparts to anyone who will listen is a checklist of rules to live by. "God comes first, your wife and family second. Respect alcohol and drugs enough to stay away from them. Respect older people enough to learn from them--they have dodged the bullets and they are survivors. Respect the law and weapons, highways and large bodies of water. Argue back to back so that you deal with the issue and not the person. Do not let your emotions make your decisions nor your ego pick your friends."

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