Jean-Claude van Damme- Biography

Also Credited As:

Frank Cujo, Jean Claude VanDamme, Jean-Claude Van Varenberg, Jean-Claude Vandam

About Jean-Claude van Damme

An action movie hero and world-renowned martial artist hailing from Belgium, Jean-Claude Van Damme burst onto the Hollywood scene with classic martial arts films "Bloodsport" (1988) and "Kickboxer" (1989). Van Damme was suddenly a star and broadened his fan base from fight film fanatics to general action film fans with critically panned, but commercially successful blockbusters like "Universal Soldier" (1992) and "Time Cop" (1994). Unlike his more popular counterparts, Van Damme projected a softer character who was not as invincible as Schwarzenegger nor as unrefined as Stallone. Van Damme's vehicles in the 1990s like "Sudden Death" (1995), "Maximum Risk" (1996) and "Double Team" (1997) were fairly formulaic, requiring him to speak little but display as much of his muscular physique as possible - all of which eventually turned the actor into a caricature of himself and demoted the actor to the straight-to-video bin. Meanwhile, Van Damme hit rock bottom in his personal life when he sought help for his cocaine addiction and was diagnosed with manic depression, which he began talking about openly in 1998. Though he was able to resurrect himself in private, Van Damme continued to struggle on the screen until he surprised everyone with a critically hailed performance as a fictional version of himself in the art house showbiz satire "JCVD" (2008). In the end, however, his appeal rarely went beyond his impressive physicality, as Van Damme continued trying to cross over to mainstream thrillers and dramas with little avail.

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).



Cynthia Derderian. Met while he was working in her father's carpet store; married Aug. 24, 1985; divorced 1986


Darcy LaPier. Born c. 1965; a Hawaiian Tropic beauty contest winner representing the state of Oregon in 1985; previously married to Hawaiian Tropic mogul Ron Rice in a highly publicized lavish wedding while still married to a man in Portland, OR; married Feb. 3, 1994; filed for divorce June 7, 1996, but reconciled; filed again for divorce Dec. 19, 1996; reconciled a second time; refiled divorce petition November 1997, alleging that Van Damme physically abused her and was addicted to drugs; divorced November 1997


Gladys Portugues. Married Jan. 3, 1987; separated July 1992; divorced 1992; reconciled after his separation from Darcy LaPier November 1997; remarried in a civil ceremony June 25, 1999 and in a church ceremony June 26, 1999


Kylie Minogue. Co-starred in "Street Fighter" (1994); in August 2012, van Damme revealed they had an affair during "Street Fighter" filming


Maria Rodriguez. Born c. 1954; Venezuelan; married Aug. 25, 1980; separated 1981 when Van Damme moved to the U.S.; divorced 1984



Bianca Van Varenberg. Born October 1990; mother, Gladys Portugues


Eugene Van Varenberg.


Eliana Van Varenberg.


Veronique Van Varenberg. Lived in Belgium


Kristopher Van Varenberg. Born c. 1987; mother, Gladys Portugues


Nicholas Van Varenberg. Born Oct. 10, 1995; mother, Darcy LaPier

Career Milestones

Adopted the stage name Frank Cujo

Built a gymnasium business while in late teens; modeled and endorsed products

Hired to play a villain in the French film "Rue Barbere" (1983); walked off project when he clashed with the director

Sold gymnasium and moved to Hong Kong to work in martial art films

Turned professional after earning black belt in Shotokan (Japanese-style karate)


Began studying martial arts at age 11 (date approximate)


Moved to USA; worked as limo and taxi driver, bouncer, carpet installer and pizza delivery man while studying English and trying to make first US film


Changed name to Jean-Claude Van Damme after the release of the feature film "Cujo"


Film debut as The Homosexual in the short "Monaco Forever"; billed as Jean-Claude Vandam


First American film credit, coordinating stunts for "Missing in Action"


Approached producer Menahem Golan outside a Beverly Hills restaurant and demonstrated his martial arts prowess


First film as 2nd unit director, "Kickboxer"; also credited for story and choreography; also essayed starring role


First starring role, "Bloodsport", co-produced by Golan


Sued for "willfully" gouging the eye of an extra in a sword fight while filming "Cyborg"; lost the case


Debut as a screenwriter, "Lionheart"; also starred


Began shooting "Universal Solider", the first film in a reported eight-picture deal with Columbia Pictures and Carolco


Film debut as a producer, "Double Impact"; also played dual lead, served as fight choreographer and wrote script


Appeared as himself in a cameo in "The Last Action Hero"


Teamed with HK director John Woo for "Hard Target"


Had title role in "Timecop"


Directorial debut "The Quest"; also starred


First underwent treatment for substance abuse in December; left 30-day program after one week


Had dual role as twins in "Maximum Risk", helmed by Ringo Lamb


First of two features with Tsui Hark, "Double Team"


Admitted in interviews to a cocaine addiction


Starred in "Knock Off", directed by Tsui Hark


Sued for $1.5 million by former trainer Frank Dux who claimed to have worked on the film "The Quest"; jury sided with Van Damme


Arrested in September for driving under the influence; in July 2000 placed on three years' probation and fined $1200 after pleading no contest; also ordered to attend a 90-day anti-drunk driving program


Guest-stars as himself on an episode of NBC's "Las Vegas"