The Truth About What Happened To Jean Claude Van Damme

In the 1980s and 1990s, the charismatic and
photogenic “Muscles from Brussels” became an international movie star — and then,
just as fast and unlikely as his rise, came the fall. Here’s how the man born Jean-Claude Camille
François Van Varenberg has occupied himself in recent years. Two of the biggest hits of Van Damme’s early
career were Universal Soldier, a 1992 sci-fi action thriller where he played a deceased
veteran resurrected as a technologically enhanced super-soldier, and 1989’s Kickboxer, where
he played… a kickboxer. Both films wound up spawning full-on franchises,
and while Van Damme himself wasn’t always involved, he did eventually return to the
roles that made him famous. In 1999, Van Damme reunited with Dolph Lundgren,
along with Michael Jai White and pro wrestler Bill Goldberg, for the appropriately named
Universal Soldier: The Return. A decade later, he returned again for 2009’s
Universal Soldier: Regeneration and while that movie ignored the previous film entirely,
it led to Lundgren and Van Damme closing out the franchise with Day of Reckoning in 2012. As for Kickboxer, that franchise became a
straight-to-video juggernaut with five installments by 1995. Unfortunately for Van Damme fans (or Fan Dammes),
those movies opted to replace him with leading men like Step By Step’s Sasha Mitchell and
future Iron Chef America star Mark Dacoscas. After 20 years, however, the franchise returned
for 2016’s Kickboxer: Vengeance, and Van Damme reappeared in the series, and even fought
Drax the Destroyer! and it seems to have been a good enough time that he returned for
the seventh installment, Kickboxer: Retaliation. In that one, JCVD fights Mike Tyson. No, really. “You mention Mongo one more time and I’ll
smash your face. “…really?” Those weren’t his only brushes with franchises,
though. In 2010, he was personally offered a role
in The Expendables by Sylvester Stallone, but turned it down. According to an interview with Van Damme,
it was because of commitments to another movie, but Stallone claimed it was because he objected
to a scene where his character would lose a fight against Jet Li. Fortunately, there weren’t any hard feelings,
and Stallone found a place for Van Damme in The Expendables 2. Unless you count the usual blood and bruises
that result from on-screen fistfights, Van Damme has rarely appeared onscreen with his
face obscured by makeup. There was, however, a time that he almost
took on one of the most costume-heavy roles in Hollywood when he was cast as the title
monster in The Predator. Unfortunately for the famously athletic actor,
the heavy suit restricted his movement to the point of making a thrilling martial arts
battle against Arnold Schwarzenegger impossible. At the time of his departure, the Predator
looked very different from its final version, and Van Damme would later explain that while
he was in the “very dangerous type of outfit,” he was “moving everything with cables.” It was far too limited to make any good use
of his skills, so he walked after only two days of production, leaving Arnold to duke
it out with a redesigned alien who did significantly less kickboxing than called for in the original
draft. Van Damme is famously nicknamed “The Muscles
from Brussels,” as he was indeed a ripped guy born in the capital city of Belgium. In 2012, Brussels paid tribute to one of its
favorite sons with a life-sized bronze statue, forever posed in a fight-ready stance in front
of the Westland Shopping Center. A visibly touched Van Damme unveiled the statue
himself at a special ceremony, saying the monument … “represented the dream of a Brussels kid” … and hoping it could serve as a source
of inspiration for troubled youth. If you’ve seen Hard Target, you already
know JCVD hates snakes. Dogs, though? The dude loves dogs. In 2016, Van Damme appeared at a fundraiser
for Animals Australia, encouraging people to adopt retired racing dogs after greyhound
racing was banned in New South Wales. He’s even worked on behalf of endangered species,
meeting with Australia’s Environment Minister to help procure funding for relocating endangered
rhinos, gorillas, and elephants to Australia. On top of those efforts, he’s trying to
put together a foundation of wealthy individuals to create sanctuaries for those animals. Believe it or not, Van Damme didn’t hit
the peak of his popularity with movies like Bloodsport. Instead, the most notable recent moment in
his career came in the form of a commercial for Volvo that went viral thanks to Van Damme’s
signature move. One of the most iconic images of JCVD’s
career came in Timecop, when he leapt on a counter while doing the splits to avoid an
untimely demise. He did the same thing in the ad except this
time, the 53 year-old performer did them while balanced atop two giant trucks…driving backward. More than 86 million people have watched that
amazing clip which is more than the number of people who ever bought tickets to any single
film in his considerable career. Jean-Claude’s daughter Bianca Van Damme is
certainly not someone you would want to mess with she’s been studying martial arts for
over 20 years, and once said she wanted to be a role model for kids by showing them they
can “kick ass in a nice, feminine way.” Growing up, she hated martial arts, and was
forced into it at the age of seven by her mother, bodybuilder Gladys Portugues, in order
to help with self-discipline. Her interests at the time lay more on the
side of speed-skating and ballet one of her father’s passions as well but an injury
forced her into another path. She embraced martial arts and worked alongside
her father in several movies. In 1992, the producers of Universal Soldier
approached the Midway company with the hopes of making a game based on the movie. Midway wasn’t interested, but they did want
to work with the film’s star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and worked out a deal with him
to make a game that would be something more along the lines of Kickboxer or Bloodsport. Unfortunately, the deal fell through, and
they never finished working on that project. Instead, that idea eventually lead to Mortal
Kombat complete with a character based on Van Damme in the form of Johnny Cage. Along with sharing a few of their initials,
Cage was also a martial arts movie star. Obviously, the licensing deal fell through
and the character was modeled off another actor, leaving Johnny Cage more of an homage
to the Muscles from Brussels than a direct representation. Still, knowing what could’ve been makes
us wish that we had gotten a bloody, ultra-violent game about the genuine article… or at least
seen Van Damme playing Cage in the Mortal Kombat movie. He probably would’ve been a better fit for
that role than the fighting game character he did take on for the screen, the mega-patriotic
Colonel Guile in Street Fighter. Van Damme has faced plenty of villains onscreen,
but his toughest battle in real life was against addiction. He has admitted to having a 10-gram-per-day
habit, which cost him around $10,000 a week. By 1999, he had racked up a DUI charge, and
while he tried rehab, he left after only seven days. A few years later, he relapsed, and found
himself in a pretty dark period of his career. From 1999 to 2008, Van Damme starred in 14
films, and even his most die-hard fans would have trouble remembering most of them. The string of generic direct-to-video action
flicks and Turkish heist movies earned him the nickname “Jean-Claude Van Desperate,”
but they also paved the way for 2008’s JCVD. That movie, in which he played a version of
himself who was caught up in a hostage crisis and confronted the emotional and somewhat
depressing aspects of his life as a has-been action star was well received. Along with kicking his cocaine habit, it helped
to bring him back to mainstream Hollywood. Van Damme’s substance abuse problem has
been linked with his bipolar disorder. His condition went undiagnosed for years before
finally being identified as Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, which is often seen in people
who struggle with addiction. Before being medicated, he would try to literally
fight through the dark times by focusing on training, saying that when he didn’t hit
the gym, quote, “nothing could make [him] happy.” The drugs were another attempt at happiness,
but obviously was not the solution to his problems. Eventually, his extensive cocaine use even
left him feeling suicidal. The good news is that he was able to battle
through his intense depression, and has since been very open about his disorder, both in
interviews and in some gut-wrenching scenes in JCVD. Over the past few years, he’s been able
to move forward, and deal with his condition in a far less self-destructive fashion. While he rose to meteoric fame in Hollywood
with a starring role in Bloodsport, Van Damme didn’t just get off the bus and walk right
onto a movie set. Long before he broke into the film industry,
he was an active fighter, with a record of 18 wins and one loss in kickboxing winning
every single contest by knockout. In semi- and light-contact battles, his record
stands at 44 and 4, so his skills in the ring are pretty well known. Many have attributed his flowing fighting
style and graceful movement to his years of training in a different physical activity:
ballet, which he studied for five years while also earning his black belt in karate. That said, at least one person thinks that
Van Damme should’ve stuck to the dance floor, and while that’s an easy opinion to dismiss,
this one comes from someone who really ought to know: Frank Dux. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Dux was the guy Van Damme played in Bloodsport,
whose alleged real-life battles in the kumite were dramatized for the film. Dukes even worked as a fight choreographer
on the movie, and according to him, Van Damme quite simply can’t fight. In 1997, the Las Vegas sun reported that Dux
was suing Van Damme for $50,000, which was later upped to 1.5 million, claiming that
the star never paid him for his work as a co-writer on the 1996 film The Quest. During the suit, he took a dig at Van Damme’s
fighting abilities, claiming that when he was training him for Bloodsport, Van Damme
proved to be unable to perform even simple stunts. Oh, and as for his legitimate kickboxing career
with all those knockouts? According to Dux, “Van Damme … lied to the
public that he was a martial arts champion.” Unfortunately for Dux, a jury cleared Van
Damme, saying that the star didn’t owe anyone anything.

Paul Whisler

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