On a recent lonely Saturday night, I found myself watching an episode of CBS’s prime-time action-drama, “Walker: Texas Ranger.” As I watched Chuck Norris use his feet of fury to preserve liberty and justice for white Texans, I was struck by a revelation about Chuck Norris’ career; namely, how has America overlooked this great talent for so many years? A karate champion and a student of Bruce Lee, Chuck has never gained the mainstream acceptance that other stars have. How is it that he receives projects like Top Dog and Forest Warrior while a no-talent hack like Jeff Speakman gets plum roles in films like The Perfect Weapon? To answer this, we need look no further than Chuck’s most defining characteristic: the beard.
Now, to be an action star, it’s necessary to have some unique quality, some defining characteristic that sets you apart from the rest of the multitude of other muscular monosyllabic martial artists. Schwarzenegger has the Austrian accent, and is great with one-liners. Bruce Willis’ talent is to constantly look incredibly beat-up. Steven Seagal has cornered the market on spooky, soft-spoken badass environmentalists. Jackie Chan does all of his own stunts. Even Jean-Claude Van Damme has carved out a niche for himself as Hollywood’s favorite coke-addicted Eurotrash playboy kickboxer. Chuck Norris needs no such gimmicks. He has his beard.
The beard. That proud, bushy beard of his. Chuck has dedicated his life to making a bearded action hero palatable to the American viewing public. And from Enter the Dragon all the way through Sidekicks, Chuck has resisted the temptation, and the million-dollar offers from Gillette, to shave it off. Movie studios may hire the latest flavor of the month to star in their blockbuster pictures, but Chuck will still be around – and so will his beard. He stands for all of the lumberjacks, the Amish, the lazy alcoholics without motivation to shave. Only in Chuck Norris movies does the hero have facial hair, not the villain.
Like Samson’s hair, Chuck’s beard is his strength. His karate talent emanates from that beard, providing him with an aura of self-confidence that says, “If you try to punch me, my prickly beard might scratch your hand.” Some people accuse Chuck of being an unemotional actor, some going so far as to call him wooden. However, those blind fools miss the subtleties of Chuck’s performances, the intricate facial expressions below the beard. You tell me how many damn Oscars Tom Hanks would have won acting behind a full beard. Not very damn many, that’s for damn sure. And while the media makes a big deal about Hanks losing weight for Philadelphia, or De Niro gaining 60 pounds for Raging Bull, no one ever mentions that for Delta Force Two, Chuck grew his beard out an extra quarter inch to play the role of a colonel summoned back to Colombia for one final mission. I think we all know Tom Hanks had to resort to a prosthetic beard in Forrest Gump.
Why am I so intent on defending Chuck, you might ask? Well, in 1981, Chuck made a little film called Eye for an Eye, in which he plays a character named Sean Kane. This was inspirational. When I, Sean Keane, quit shaving in the next few weeks, I don’t want to hear, “Hey, why don’t you shave, hippie?” or, “Could you please just trim your scraggly beard for your sister’s wedding?” What I’d like to hear instead is just a little bit of fucking respect. I think Chuck and the beard have earned it.