I’ve met and known a lot of tough guys over the years. Two at the top of my tough-guy list have had movies made about them that are just about to be released and are super inspiring. Let me give you a little background before talking about each.
Before my film and television careers, I had operated three martial arts schools that a company wanted to buy and take nationwide – a chain of Chuck Norris schools. Two years later, I lost everything. It took me five years of giving seminars and teaching private lessons to avoid bankruptcy.
One of my private students was actor Steve McQueen. Steve was also a motorcycle and racecar enthusiast.
Steve was known as “the king of cool,” and he was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1960s. He starred in some colossal movies: “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Bullitt,” “The Getaway” and “Towering Inferno,” to name a few.
Steve and I became pretty good friends, and we were both friends with Bruce Lee. We even flew together to Bruce’s memorial service in San Francisco, where we were also pallbearers.
In my “Official Chuck Norris Fact Book,” I tell a few different stories about Steve and me.
One of the stories that will really make people laugh is when we were at his wife’s stretching class with her and several other ladies. The class instructor had pink and blue leotards for Steve and me to put on for the class. I grabbed the blue leotard before Steve did, so he had to wear the pink leotard. When we went to the class, being the only men in there with all the women, they laughed and laughed, until the male instructor said it was time to begin. Steve and I never went back to the stretch class!
One day after karate lessons, Steve said to me, “I would suggest that you try the acting field.”
I replied: “Why? I’ve never had an acting class in my life. I never even did a high school play.”
Steve said: “Well, acting is not just having lessons. You either have a certain presence that comes across on the screen, or you don’t. I think you may have it. I strongly suggest that you give it a try.”
I thought about it for several months before I decided, because once I decide to do something, I’m not going to give up.
I checked into various acting schools, but they were all too expensive. Finally, I found a school that could be paid through my GI Bill. So, I began studying acting, and the rest, as they say, is history.
My first movie was “Good Guys Wear Black.” I had a lot of dialogue in that movie. Steve went with me to see the movie. After we left the movie, Steve looked at me and said: “The movie was good but you talked too much. Remember, we are action. I suggest you cut down on all your dialogue. Let your co-stars do all the trivial dialogue, and when there is something important to say, then you be the one to say it.”
He explained, “I did that in my film, ‘Bullitt.’ I had a scene with Robert Vaughn where I had to reply to him. My dialogue was three paragraphs long. I scratched it all out and instead said, ‘You work your side of the street and I’ll work mine.’ People still remember that line.”
“Remember,” Steve told me, “sometimes less is more.” I have never forgotten that.
Steve not only helped me start my film career, he encouraged me when I was pelted by my first round of critics for my first movie.
Steve said to me: “Don’t worry about what the critics think. What really matters is what the audience thinks. If they come to see your movies, it doesn’t matter what the critics say.” Steve was absolutely correct, and for the next 30 years, I lived by his advice.
Before McQueen’s untimely death from mesothelioma in 1980, and unknown to most people, Steve became a Christian.
Pastor and author Greg Laurie, who is also a huge fan of McQueen, recently has done a masterful job capturing the faith journey of Steve is his film: “Steve McQueen – American Icon: The Untold Story of the Spiritual Quest of a Hollywood Legend.” The documentary is narrated by actor Gary Sinise, and it has been awarded the Dove Seal of Approval for All Ages.
The Hollywood Reporter explained: “McQueen eventually found solace in God after taking flying lessons from an older, religious man who became a mentor and father figure. McQueen’s religiosity became more pronounced after he was diagnosed with the rare form of lung cancer that eventually killed him at age 50. He was befriended by Reverend Billy Graham, who gifted the actor with his personal leather-bound Bible.”
Pastor Laurie also wrote an even more in-depth book on his spirituality: “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon.” Whether you’re a McQueen fan or not, you’ll be one after watching the movie or reading the book.
The other “tough guy” and inspiring movie I want to highlight is about a hero I never met but hope one day to meet because we share a similar passion for helping children. He’s as tough as Steve McQueen and as compassionate as Desmond Tutu.
Charles Mully is a Kenyan who lived in an abusive home for the first five years of his life, was abandoned by his parents at six, lived on the streets with 2.6 million other homeless children, became suicidal, yet climbed up out of abject poverty to become a millionaire in his own culture. After years of prosperity and success, he became convicted about how he lost his ability to relate and remember his past. After much reflection, which contains many twists and turns, he gave up everything to rescue homeless kids who are in the same spot he was for so many years growing up.
To date, Mully and his “Mully Children’s Family” nonprofit organization have rescued and transformed more than 10,000 homeless children, abused youth and marginalized members of society.
Pre-screenings about the documentary of Charles’ life from Academy Award Winner James Moll, simply titled “Mully,” are yielding rave reviews from the public as well as movie critics.
Eric Metaxas, the host of the “Eric Metaxas Show,” a co-host of “BreakPoint” radio and a New York Times No. 1 best-selling author whose works have been translated into more than 20 languages, wrote this in his review at CNSNews.com: “I won’t spoil the plot because I really want you to take your family and friends to see this film. ‘Mully’ will have a limited run across the U.S. and Canada during an exclusive three-night theatrical event on October 3rd, 4th and 5th. This extraordinary, compelling, high-quality film is a joint project of our friends at Focus on the Family, For the Good, and the Mully Children’s Family. I urge you to go to the theater. This is an amazing film.”
Gena and I were given a link to watch this amazing movie before its national premier. After doing so, I enthusiastically turned to her and said: “Everyone across America and around the world needs to see this powerful and inspirational film! It could change people’s lives, and bring our country and world more together.” (Mully Children’s Family even has a kids’ karate team, which helps build their character and confidence.)
Mully’s passion to help children humbly reminds me of why my wife and my life mission and nonprofit organization is Kickstart Kids, which seeks to build character through karate in students in Texas public middle schools. Our 70 instructors and staff have graduated more than 85,000 alumni through our program, which has proven to give young people the tools and support needed to resist negative peer pressure, avoid self-destructive behaviors and make responsible decisions.
One thing Mully and we are definitely standing upon is the high value Jesus gave to children, when He said: “Do not hinder the children from coming to Me, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”