What Happened to Jean-Claude Van Damme?
The iconic action star was once a household name, but has since faded from the limelight. Here’s what happened to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of only a handful of action stars who can lay claim to the title of “living legend.” He’s an icon of action and martial arts cinema, with dozens of ass-kicking roles under his belt. Born and raised in Brussels, Belgium, Van Damme began his martial arts training at the tender age of 10, and never looked back. In 1982, the “Muscles from Brussels” moved to the United States to become an actor, and the rest is history. For a while in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the man was a household name, but he’s since disappeared from the spotlight. Here’s what happened to this once most preeminent of kickboxing action heroes.
After moving to the United States in 1982, Van Damme worked odd jobs and acted as an extra in films like 1984’s Breakin’. He was soon offered the role of the titular alien hunter in Predator and accepted it, hoping it would be his breakout role. Upon realizing he’d be completely obscured and encumbered by the Predator costume, however, he stepped away from the opportunity. His big break came with the 1988 film Bloodsport — a martial arts masterpiece based on the alleged true experiences of Frank Dux. Bloodsport kicked off his superstar heyday which ran from the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s, and he made most of his best films during this period. Cyborg, Kickboxer, Lionheart, and Double Impact are just a few of the classics that he starred in during this time. In 1992, Van Damme acted in the blockbuster action spectacle Universal Solider, which remains one of his most celebrated movies.
Unfortunately, the Muscles from Brussels’ international success didn’t last forever. Perhaps the 1994 Street Fighter movie signaled that the star’s hot streak was soon to come to a screeching halt, as that production saw Van Damme suffering from a raging cocaine habit that made the shoot very difficult. In the years that followed, Van Damme continued to star in movies, but most failed to reach the critical and financial successes of his earlier work. According to Screen Rant, “Van Damme claimed he was “blacklisted” when he tried to get studios to give him as much money as stars like Jim Carrey.” As a result, his latter-day films like Derailed and Second in Command still contain much action and martial arts, but are notably lacking in essential moments.
A major factor that contributed to Van Damme’s fall from superstardom was his crippling addiction to cocaine. It began in the early ‘90s, and by the end of the decade, had soared out of control, with Van Damme reportedly consuming up to $10,000 worth of cocaine per week. The addiction hindered his working relationships, cost him a number of roles, and endangered his life. On top of his struggle with addiction, Van Damme was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which soon sent him spiraling into depression.
Although his attempts at drug rehabilitation did not work out, Van Damme was finally successful in kicking the habit by quitting cold-turkey and focusing on his intense exercise regime. In addition to freeing himself of his drug addiction, Van Damme has found new acting opportunities, lending his voice talent to the Kung Fu Panda series and starring in the latest additions to both the Universal Soldier and Kickboxer franchises. In 2008, Van Damme starred in the critically acclaimed JCVD, a Belgian crime drama in which Van Damme plays a semi-fictionalized version of himself. In addition to acting, Van Damme has also worked on another of his passions in recent years: advocacy for animals and endangered species. According to the New York Times, Van Damme “has donated tens of thousands of dollars to animal rights organizations [and] rescued dozens of strays from around the world.” He’s appeared in a number of PSAs for Animals Australia, and has been working towards his goal of rallying celebrities and fellow actors in creating sanctuaries for endangered species.
Clearly, the world still thinks very highly of the Muscles from Brussels; in 2012, a life-sized bronze statue of Van Damme was unveiled in his hometown of Brussels. Van Damme hopes the statue will inspire children everywhere to follow their dreams. In 2013, the action star inspired people all over the internet with a viral Volvo Trucks commercial in which he performs his famous “epic split” over two moving semi-trucks. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out – it’s not just a display of his incredible athleticism, but also a testament to his resilience and determination. You just can’t keep the Van Damme man down.