The story of Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg gives for rivers of ink to flow and his life trajectory represents another good example of the search, and achievement, of that ideal called American dream. And it is that the 60-year-old Belgian actor had a vision and clung to it with all his might.
He grew up speaking French in Berchem-Sainte Agathe, a small town west of Brussels, where over the years he would cultivate the desire to carve out a glorious future while envisioning hits such as Ben Hur, The Legend of the Indomitable or The Cincinnati Kid.
His father, a florist by profession, contributed his two cents by thinking that his son would do well learn martial arts to polish a somewhat flimsy physique, which he also molded thanks to the ballet. He dropped out of school at 16 and opted for the cult of the body. So much so that, after achieving a few minor bodybuilding titles and competing with relative success as a kickboxer, decided to open a gym in the center of Brussels that I would call, prophetically, California Gym.
“Many times, I would look out the window in Belgium and it was raining. The sky was gray and depressing. So I would go to the movies. And suddenly the screen would fill with light and the bright colors would explode. And I wanted to be a part of it. I would tell my mother, ‘I’m going to be a movie star.’ She would reply, “That’s wonderful, Jean-Claude. But don’t tell Dad“, he once declared to The New York Times.
Landing in Hollywood
And so, in 1981, at just 21 years old, Van Damme sold the gym and, fleeing the first of his failed marriages, headed to Los Angeles. He had $ 8,000 in his pocket and he didn’t speak English. It was then that he adopted the nickname Van Damme, in honor of a businessman and friend from Brussels. He spent the next five years driving limousines, delivering pizzas and even making carpets in an Irvine factory. At that time, it was already 1986, he had remarried and divorced.
His first role of a certain entity was in Never back down, never give up, eventually considered a cult film, though it wasn’t until shortly after that he approached Cannon Films CEO Menahem Golan at a Beverly Hills restaurant and executed one of his features. overhead kicks of the magnate, who immediately hired him to Bloodsport.
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s dream and formula for success were taking shape: films with a low budget and abundant profit no matter what the critics thought about it. And so they came Cyborg (1989), Kickboxer (1989), Lionheart (1990), Double impact (1991), Universal Soldier (1992), Timecop (1994) or Streetfighter (1994), a film that would mark the peak of his career and the beginning of the end.
The ordeal that made him fall from grace
At that time, with the third marriage concluded behind him, to Van Damme, who he rubbed shoulders in a way with stars of the moment like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal, fame went to his head. The film based on the mythical video game was his highest salary in the industry (7 million dollars) and his most controversial shoot to date: a fleeting romance with Kylie Minogue, and a lot of alcohol and drugs.
What’s more, the actor decided to launch an ordeal to the industry. And he lost. Columbia offered him a contract of 30 million euros to star in three films, but Van Damme came up and asked for 50, the same emoluments of Jim Carrey, the highest paid actor at that time.
“It was not about money. He was chaining movies, and always promotional. I was tired. Everything he touched was profitable. Jim Carrey was paid a fortune. Y I thought they could give me that amount too. What an idiot. They put me on the black list and that’s all over there”, the actor assured The Guardian years later.
Nor did it help that his life was continually punctuated by controversy as a result of his addiction to cocaine, which crystallized in a new marital failure, the fourth, and in an evident physical deterioration that led him to rehabilitation in an ephemeral way. After being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder he sought refuge in his third wife, Gladys Portugues, whom he remarried in 1999. And with whom, in some way, he has managed to endure to this day.
Already entered the new century, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s film career was directly an absurdity based on films, and sequels, of a very low level that were not even released in theaters. But the Belgian was irreducible and did not lose faith. “I am not a movie star. I am a brand. People know me by my name, not by my films ”, he has assured on occasion.
Criticism at your feet
In 2008, a ray of hope threatened to give him the splendor of yesteryear. JCVD, a drama in which he played himself with an emotional final monologue earned him the respect of critics and the public in equal measure. “If you give me something a little deeper, a better script and a good cast around me, then I can do a great job.” assured shortly before the film was screened at the Cannes Festival itself.
But it was a mirage. Quickly the actor once again abandoned himself to the lack of quality in his projects, although it must be recognized that in one way or another he has managed to take advantage of that brand that he boasts of through documentaries, merchandising, advertising spots or memes.
It does not return: it never left
But if someone thinks that Jean-Claude Van Damme has definitely left the profession, he could not be more wrong. In fact, Amazon Prime released a miniseries in 2017, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, in which it is implied that Van Damme was actually a secret spy who had accepted his roles in the cinema to camouflage himself on missions as a secret agent. And once again, maybe the penultimate, received praise for their interpretation.
Government conspiracies, secret agents… Jean Claude Van Damme ?! 😱 Where do I sign? The king of action will form a new team in ‘The Last Mercenary’, which arrives on Netflix in July. pic.twitter.com/AasxJdFzL9
– Netflix Latin America (@NetflixLAT) April 27, 2021
And we come to 2021. And the brand continues to have a claim. Now it is Netflix that bets on him after realizing that some of the most viewed movies in its catalog are his (!). In fact, it is about to be released The last mercenary, the first action comedy of his career, and there are more projects on the table. Jean-Claude Van Damme does not return because he never completely left.