Jean-Claude Van Damme (born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg) is the son of Eliana and Eugène Van Varenberg, an accountant and flower shop owner, and was born in Sint-Agatha-Berchem, Belgium. At the age of ten, his father enrolled him in a Shotokan karate school, where he first learned martial arts. His styles include kickboxing, Shotokan karate, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo. Ultimately, he received his black belt in karate. He began weightlifting to develop his physique, which ultimately led to his winning the Mr. Belgium bodybuilding title. He started studying ballet when he was 16 years old and continued for five years. According to him, ballet "is an art, but it's also one of the most difficult sports. If you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive a workout in any other sport."
In Belgium, Van Damme began his competitive karate career at the age of 15. Van Damme competed in semi-contact matches for both tournaments and non-tournament events from 1976 to 1980, recording 44 wins and 4 losses. On December 26, 1979, during the La Coupe François Persoons Karate Tournament in Brussels, Van Damme was a part of the Belgium Karate Team, which went on to win the European Karate Championship. At the Challenge Coupe des Espoirs Karate Competition, Van Damme came in second (1st Trials). Van Damme won 25 matches over the three-day competition before falling to partner Angelo Spataro in the championship round. On March 8, 1980, in Brussels, Belgium, Van Damme squared off against Patrick Teugels, a former teammate, at the Forest National Arena as part of the undercard of the light-heavyweight world championship match between Dan Macaruso and Dominique Valera. Teugels had previously defeated Van Damme twice by decision, including the contest for the Belgium Lightweight Championship.
In 1977, Van Damme defeated Teugels. Teugels was some people's favourite to win this battle after his great performance at the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations World Championships four months prior. Patrick Teugels was defeated by Van Damme via TKO in the first round, according to reports and Teugels' own interview (with pictures). Teugels received a kick to the nose and was unable to continue. Van Damme referred to this match as his most memorable in a 2013 interview. When Claude Goetz organised the first full-contact karate competition in Belgium in 1977, Van Damme began his full-contact career.
Van Damme and his childhood buddy Michel Qissi immigrated to the United States in 1982 with the intention of finding employment as actors. They worked a variety of occupations to make ends meet. Their first job on a movie was as extras in Cannon Films' 1984 hip-hop dance movie Breakin'. They can be seen twirling at a dance demonstration in the distance. He became close to action martial arts actor Chuck Norris at about that period. Together, they began sparring, and Van Damme commenced employment as a bouncer at Norris' club Woody's Wharf. He was in the stunt crew for the 1984 Chuck Norris action flick Missing in Action, which was distributed by Cannon Films.
His skill in martial arts, demonstrated by his capacity to kick an opponent in the head while leaping 360 degrees, and his attractiveness earned him leading roles in movies with larger budgets, including Cyborg (1989), Lionheart (1990), Double Impact (1991), and Universal Soldier (1992). He achieved success in 1994 with the $100 million global smash Timecop. However, his personal life was disintegrating in the interim - a divorce, a subsequent marriage, and then another divorce. It became apparent in his career when his films, including The Quest (1996), which he directed, Maximum Risk (1996), and Double Team (1996), started to do poorly at the box office (1997). Together, the three movies brought in less than $50 million. In 1999, he decided to restart his failed career to pursue new objectives. He overcame his issues with the support of his family and produced films like Replicant (2001), Derailed (2002), and In Hell (2003) that performed pretty poorly at the box office, but he tried to make something memorable for his fans. His acting improved and became more emotional in these films, and each one primarily had a different action tone.
According to Van Damme, by the mid-1990s, the pressure of constantly filming and promoting his movies had caused him to acquire a cocaine addiction. By 1996, he was using up to 10 grams of cocaine every day and was spending up to $10,000 a week on it. In 1999, he was arrested for drunken driving. After failing at drug rehabilitation, he decided to quit cold turkey and exercise to overcome his addiction. He was identified as having bipolar disorder in 1998. Van Damme has married four different women five times. He had two children, Kristopher (born in 1987) and Bianca Brigitte (born 1990), with his third wife, bodybuilder Gladys Portugues, to who he was married until 1992. He started dating Darcy LaPier, an actress whom he later married in February 1994. Together, they had Nicholas (born 10 October 1995). In the same year, while filming for Street Fighter in Thailand, he had an affair with Kylie Minogue. LaPier, who was expecting their baby at the time, was unaware of the relationship until Van Damme came clean about it in 2012.