The man, the myriad myths

Washington Post

Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.

Chuck Norris frequently donates blood to the Red Cross. Just not his own.

Chuck Norris does not fade away. By all rights he should have, by now. "Walker, Texas Ranger," his butt-kicking law-and-order TV series, finished its run on CBS in May 2001, after eight years and 203 episodes. And that should have been that for the great Stoneface, outside of the endless cable reruns, the Total Gym infomercials and the occasional late-night rebroadcast of one of his '80s-era chop-socky movies ("Lone Wolf McQuade," "Missing in Action," etc.).

But Chuck Norris, or maybe just Chuck Mania, endures.

The 65-year-old martial-arts master is the object of a kind of sardonic cult veneration. Conan O'Brien, on his late-night show, has been airing vintage "Walker" clips for months., a website popular among the dorm set, regularly links to all things Norris on the Internet (recent entry: a rare photo of Norris sans beard). Norris popped up in a cameo in "Dodgeball" two summers ago and in a two-hour "Walker" movie in October, which drew respectable ratings.

Most intriguing, and certainly most amusing, has been the spread of Chuck Norris "facts," a series of Paul Bunyanesque exaggerations riffing on (and amplifying) the Legend of Chuck. Such as:

Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.

Wilt Chamberlain claims to have slept with more than 20,000 women in his lifetime. Chuck Norris calls this "a slow Tuesday."

Why does Norris (once described by a critic as the stiffest guy on TV since Ed Sullivan) rate this sort of exaltation, this David Hasselhoff-ization? Why not fellow aging B-pic martial-arts action stars such as Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme? Why not cartoonish wrestler-actors like the Rock or Hulk Hogan? Why not other men-of-frozen-facial-features such as Charles Bronson or Steve McQueen (a former Norris martial-arts student)?

Why not that MacGyver guy?

Why, in short, a guy who never uttered more than three consecutive lines of dialogue and tended to solve contentious military and law enforcement issues by, um, kicking people in the head?

Chuck Norris does not go hunting because "hunting" implies a chance of failure. Chuck Norris goes killing.

Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris.

While hardly an unbiased source, Jeff Duclos, who has been Norris' publicist since the last season of "Walker," chalks up Chuck Mania to Norris' "consistent persona."

"There are very few people who have projected that kind of image, that kind of mythical heroism," he says. "People, especially young men, appreciate the underlying principles of that character, the morality, the dignity, the sense of right and wrong."

While Norris has never challenged Sir Laurence Olivier for acting nuance, he certainly has been consistent during his more than 30-year movie and TV career. Through scores of "Walker" episodes and nearly two dozen movies, he played pretty much the same guy. As the square-jawed embodiment of law and order, he could be counted on to do What Was Right, even if right involved beating up people, which, in Norris' case, it invariably did.

"Walker," which drew almost 20 million viewers at its peak, was predictable, simple and (as Conan's clips demonstrate) often unintentionally funny. To call "Walker" retro is to insult retro. Although it was in the tradition of "Gunsmoke" and John Wayne westerns, it existed in its own space-time continuum. As latter-day Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, Norris and his sidekicks were the white hats out to rid the West (or at least Dallas) of drug-dealin', kidnappin', gun-runnin', no-good scum. Every week, justice prevailed. And it prevailed with great guest stars, including Frank Stallone, Joan Jett, Erik Estrada, Ann Jillian, Tom Bosley and Barbara Mandrell.

There was a certain integrity to the series. To his credit, Norris, who was executive producer of the show, never tried to do a Very Special Episode (OK, the one about him and Alex registering for their wedding was an exception). "Walker" never did subtlety, or ambiguity, or irony. (In fact, Chuck Norris can bend irony into balloon-animal shapes.)

Another possible explanation for Norris adulation is a demographic one: Young adults, who grew up watching "Walker" on Saturday nights, are reliving a fond bit of their childhood, just as earlier generations elevated "The Brady Bunch" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" to iconic camp status. In any case, young people seem to be the driving force behind Norris nostalgia. The most frequent visitors to the Chuck Norris Fact Generator -- -- a daily offering of Chuck "facts," are college students and military personnel, according to Ian Spector, the site's co-founder.

Spector, 17, a Brown University freshman from Long Island, started a "fact" site for the actor Vin Diesel in April and joined forces with another Web designer, Mike Lelli, to launch the Norris site a month later. After some slow going, things have picked up: The Norris generator got 18 million of its 28.7 million hits in the past month, Spector reports. He has now collected some 8,000 Norris "facts" from visitors and plans to produce a book and a calendar.

Why the passion for Chuck? Spector has a few thoughts: "I guess he's well enough known that people know what he's done," he says. "And he's been out of the culture long enough so that people can go wherever they want with the 'facts.' Beyond that, it's really hard to say."

Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

Norris was on vacation with his family and unavailable for comment, according to Duclos. The publicist adds, however, that Norris doesn't mind making a little fun of his persona. In addition to the "Dodgeball" cameo, he appeared on O'Brien's show last year, in a humorous skit in which Norris/Walker stops O'Brien from showing another "Walker" clip by shooting his hand away from a clip-generating lever. The two men then mock-argue and engage in a carefully choreographed martial-arts fight.

"He's a good sport," Duclos says. "He's a serious guy, but I don't think he takes himself too seriously."

As for the Internet "facts," Norris hasn't seen those yet, says Duclos.

Probably just as well. You wouldn't want to upset Chuck Norris.

There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

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