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Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 18.10.1960) - American actor.

Jean-Claude Van Damme/  -  From his arrival in the USA in 1981 at age 21, Jean-Claude Van Damme harbored only one dream, to become a movie star. Handsome and muscular, he studied martial arts from the time he was 11 and eventually won the European Professional Karate Association's middleweight championship while in his late teens. The Belgian, who was born Jean-Claude Van Varenberg, reportedly operated the California Gym in his native land before traveling to Hong Kong (where he briefly worked as a model). In 1981, he settled in Hollywood with the expressed goal of becoming a movie star.

Adopting various stage names like Frank Cujo and Jean-Claude Vandam, he made ends meet in a variety of odd jobs. Cast in his first feature, the 1983 French film "Rue Barbere", he clashed with the director and either quit or was fired (depending on whose version one believes). After finally getting his first acting role, as a gay hitchhiker in the short "Monaco Forever" (1984), Van Damme finally landed a major role as the Russian opponent to an American karate student in "No Retreat No Surrender" (1986). After approaching producer Menahem Golan outside a Beverly Hills restaurant, Van Damme demonstrated his unique contribution to the martial arts genre: executing a karate kick to his opponent's head during an impressive 360-degree leap. Suitably impressed, the producer hired him for "Bloodsport" (1988), which has acquired status as a minor cult classic. The low-budget film earned an impressive $35 million box office, helping Van Damme to partially achieve his goal to become a movie star.

Unlike the other contemporary popular action heroes, Van Damme projected a softer character. He was not as invincible as Schwarzenegger nor as unrefined as Stallone. Also, his impressive physicality (in nearly every Van Damme film, he executes a masterful split) set him apart. Yet, he was not as mainstream as the others. There is a finite fan base for a Van Damme film and while some of his movies have been money-makers, none have achieved blockbuster status in the USA. On the other hand, worldwide his appeal is unchallenged.

Van Damme's vehicles in the late 1980s and early 90s were fairly formulaic, requiring him to speak little, display as much of his muscular physique as possible and kick butt. At the same time, the actor was shouldering more and more responsibilities, moving into second unit work and providing storylines ("Kickboxer" 1988) and later producing ("Double Impact" 1991) and even directing ("The Quest" 1996). Although savvy enough to ally himself with Hong Kong masters, like John Woo ("Hard Target" 1993), Ringo Lam ("Maximum Risk" 1996) and Tsui Hark ("Double Team" 1997 and "Knock Off" 1998), the results have been minor entries in the directors' filmographies.

A scrappy self-promoter, Van Damme has often given startlingly candid interviews, often timed to the release of new films. His personal life, including his four marriages and several lawsuits, has elements of a soap opera played on a very public stage. Since the mid-90s, Van Damme has made passing references to his struggles with substance abuse, claiming to have spent 10-years addicted to sleeping pills and several more abusing cocaine. Despite seeming on the verge of becoming a breakthrough success on several occasions, notably with 1992's "Universal Soldier" and the more dramatic "Nowhere to Run" (1993), he remains mired in the action genre. Unlike Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Van Damme has yet to find that crossover role. Reportedly, he has kicked his drug problems and is searching for that film that will earn the respect of moviegoers and the Hollywood establishment.

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