How Chuck Norris Facts became the internet’s first great meme

Hollywood is constantly in search of the next big action star. The prototypical person who can fill movie scenes and movie theaters as the protagonist in summer blockbusters. But more importantly these days, also captivate the internet. 

In the late 1970s and early 80s, there were few action heroes larger than Chuck Norris. After serving in the United States Air Force, Norris rose to fame as a martial artist, starring along side Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon and became a bankable box office force in the mid-80s with films like Missing In Action and Delta Force.

Norris played the central figure in some of the biggest action movies of that era. While Sly and Arnold’s muscle-bound physiques stole most scenes, Norris’s quiet confidence attracted a legion of fans. The fact that Norris was an accomplished black belt translated to believability on screen.

The Oklahoma native is still arguably one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood. Norris founded a fighting school and parlayed his big screen success into profitable side hustles like becoming the face of Total Gym exercise equipment and Fiat.

But even with all these accomplishments, it was prime time TV role as a Texas Ranger that would cement the 77-year-old’s status as a pop culture icon. Not just because of the awesome absurdity of the program but the eventual creation of a meme that turned the action star into a modern day deity.

An origin story worthy of a hero 

Like most memes, Chuck Norris Facts were a happy accident. Another actor—not Chuck Norris—was the impetus, Ian Spector, the godfather of the Norris facts, told the Daily Dot.

“Believe it or not, the site began in 2005 with Vin Diesel Facts,” he said over email. 

In 2005, The Pacifier, a film in which Diesel played an Elite Navy SEAL tasked with caring for children, became a box office success, grossing over $200 million in U.S. movie theaters. Spector frequented the forums on SomethingAwful.com and became engrossed with a conversation about the country’s love/hate relationship with the bald action bro.

Spector marveled how divisive people were about Diesel and how he was either “loved for his badass-ness or mocked for it” and how The Pacifier caused most people to “shift to the latter camp.”

The forum members began attributing strange “facts” to Diesel, funny but impossible feats of strength, intelligence, and prowess. The game sparked an idea. Spector, a college freshman at the time, created a website that generated random quotes about Vin Diesel. He posted the link to the forums and within 24 hours, according to Spector’s first book, the website received over 20,000 hits.

After a few months, users grew tired of poking fun at the Fast and Furious star, so Spector polled the audience in search of another possible focus for amazing facts being generated by the website’s script.

“I put a poll up on the site and let visitors have a choice in who we should expand to,” explained Spector. “There were a dozen options to pick from as well as a write-in option. More people wrote in Chuck Norris than voted for anything else.”

Spector knew little about Norris’s body of work besides a cameo in the movie Dodgeball and the martial artist’s run as a fictional lawman in the Lone Star State

The unbeatable Texas Ranger

Walker, Texas Ranger was inspired by Norris’s film Lone Wolf McQuade. Chuck portrayed a member of the Texas Ranger Division, the long arm of the law throughout the state.  

The underlying theme in most Chuck Norris movies is usually one man faces near insurmountable odds and he must use only his fists (and occasionally many, many weapons) to survive and triumph.

Walker aired on CBS, starting in the spring of 1993 and running until 2001. The show enjoyed solid ratings throughout its run and often ranked in the Top 30 programs from 1995 until 1999. For several seasons, Walker ranked in the top 20 programs on TV. The show was broadcast in over 100 countries, had one made-for-television movie, and reruns still air today. 

Walker, Texas Ranger followed the same classic formula of Norris movies, except the odds weren’t just insurmountable, they were sometimes downright absurd. Walker became a principal in a school, lost his vision but was still able to beat people to a pulp, checked himself into prison to bring down a fighting ring, and fought a bear.

These intense, and often insane, storylines played perfectly to Spector’s random fact generator. Spector took the advice of the crowd and launched the Chuck Norris Fact Generator in the summer of 2005. By early 2006, the website was getting close to 20 million page views a month. Chuck Norris Facts turned the aging star into a global phenomenon. The publishing industry and a certain actor took notice.

“I was approached by folks in the publishing world in early 2006,” remembers Spector. “By then there had been at least 50 million visits to the site, which is impressive in a pre-Twitter and Facebook world.”

Around this time, Norris got word of his internet popularity. Norris responded to the “facts” on his official website with a statement, and his feelings were mixed. The faux Texas lawman admitted that many of the Chuck Norris facts were humorous, but he hoped people could separate the truth from works of fiction.  

Then, in a column for WorldNetDaily, Norris discussed his unhappiness with for the facts that took things a little too far.

“People everywhere have asked me, ‘What do you think of all these Chuck Norris ‘facts’?’ My answer is always the same: Some are funny. Some are pretty far-out. And most are just promoting harmless fun and times of laughter (but be careful if you go searching for “Chuck Norris Facts” on the internet, because some are flat-out not appropriate for kids).”

Spector would meet Norris face-to-face in 2006 at the action star’s request. The meeting was cordial and involved Chuck and his wife along with Norris’s lawyer and business manager. The group discussed Spector’s website, Norris’s charity endeavors and ended with the pair parting as friends.

In November 2007, though, Gotham Books released The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 Facts About the World’s Greatest Human. Just like Chuck’s punches, it was an instant hit. But Norris, even after the friendly meeting, felt he had no choice but to file suit against Penguin USA (the parent company of Gotham) claiming “trademark infringement, unjust enrichment and privacy rights.”

The lawsuit alleged that some of the facts were racist, lewd or portray Mr. Norris as engaged in illegal activities.

“Defendants have misappropriated and exploited Mr. Norris’s name and likeness without authorization for their own commercial profit,” said the lawsuit.

The aftermath

These days, Spector spends less time on turning acting legends into memes and more time working as an innovation strategist with a focus on user and technology experience.

“I basically help big brands and promising startups avoid learning the hard way when developing new digital products and services,” joked Spector.  

The Brown University alum has released four more Chuck Norris-themed books since 2007. He estimates over 750,000 copies in print worldwide. Though he’s never worked with the action star on any projects, he says he’d be happy to do an official collaboration should there be interest. 

As for the legal issue, Norris quietly dropped the lawsuit in 2008, a few months prior to releasing his own version, The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book: 101 of Chuck’s Favorite Facts and Stories.

Chuck has since fully embraced his god-like existence on the web.

“I didn’t wake up one day thinking that the world needed one-liners about Chuck Norris,” states Spector. Neither did Chuck. Probably because he doesn’t sleep; he waits.

A trip down Chuck Norris Facts memory lane

It’s impossible to choose the best Chuck Norris Facts ever created. The only person man enough to do it is Chuck himself. (Norris has stated his favorite fact is “They wanted to put Chuck Norris’s face on Mount Rushmore, but the granite wasn’t hard enough for his beard.”)

Since we couldn’t rank the best, here’s a collection of some internet favorites.

  • Chuck Norris was bitten by a cobra and after five days of excruciating pain… the cobra died.
  • Chuck Norris doesn’t dial the wrong number. You answered the wrong phone.
  • Chuck Norris knows Victoria’s secret.
  • When Chuck Norris turned 18, his parents moved out.
  • Chuck Norris once kicked a horse in the chin. Its descendants today are known as giraffes.
  • Chuck Norris can delete the Recycling Bin.
  • Chuck Norris’s calendar goes straight from March 31st to April 2. No one fools Chuck Norris.
  • Chuck Norris has counted to infinity. Twice.
  • There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.
  • There is no theory of evolution, just a list of creatures Chuck Norris allows to live.
Chris Illuminati

Chris Illuminati

Chris Illuminati is an author and reporter whose work for the Daily Dot focuses on meme culture. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, FanSided, BroBible, Penthouse, and AskMen.