- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

The very second "Walker, Texas Ranger" wraps production forever in Dallas on April 5, Chuck Norris and wife Gena are off to Paradise Island in the Bahamas for infinite rounds of golf.
Mr. Norris is a "very poor" golfer, but regards walking the lush tropical links in the Caribbean as an excellent way to shape up for a three-week bicycle tour of southern Italy in May.
"It's something I've always wanted to do and never had time for," says Mr. Norris, the man who has beaten and kicked the bad guys as crusty Texas Ranger Cordell Walker since 1993. "My wife has never been to Europe and I can't imagine a more romantic place than Italy for her," says the 60-year-old actor, a man with legs of steel and a heart of jelly.
"We have only been married two years, so I figure that this is a great opportunity for us to really get together and know each other. Gena has been a 'Walker' widow since we got married. I'm on the set 12 to 14 hours a day."
With "Walker, Texas Ranger's" enormous popularity worldwide ("I was in Moscow last year because it airs three times a day in Russia right now I was surprised to find they love me in just about all the East European countries"), Mr. Norris has only one way to keep his anonymity when traveling. "When I shave my beard, I can move around," he explains. "Nobody recognizes me without the beard."
Following the bike vacation, Mr. Norris plans to take several months off while "re-establishing his marriage," and solidify family ties, which include his three grown children by his ex-wife, and Gena's 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter from her previous marriage.
"I'm a happy man," he laughs, "with the wonderful woman who brought two great kids into my life … we're still talking about the possibility of having babies of our own."
Despite getting up there in years, Mr. Norris has no immediate plans of retiring from his lucrative profession.
"I just want to pursue other projects for a while, including turning my movie-of-the week last season, 'The President's Man,' into a series," he explains. "The idea is that I wouldn't be the only star perhaps only doing a cameo role every week which would leave me more free time to do other things in my life."
"The President's Man" already regarded as a backdoor series pilot by the CBS network featured Mr. Norris as Jonathan McCord, the president's most secret agent masquerading as a professor at a university in Texas between dangerous assignments. At the same time, the aging spook has to train on the job his eventual replacement, the hot-tempered and intense Deke Slater (Dylan Neal).
A new series also would take Mr. Norris to his "real" home in Los Angeles, as opposed to his luxurious house in Dallas and peaceful "little" 650-acre cattle ranch near Houston.
"I've had a tremendous experience in Texas for the past eight years, but it's time to go home for more work and play. But, I'm keeping the ranch. It's a retreat where I can kick back and recharge my batteries. The chores are a lot easier now that I have scaled back from 300 to about 50 head of cattle."
The decision to shut down "Walker, Texas Ranger" after more than 200 episodes was a relatively easy one to make, Mr. Norris says.
"More than anything, I wanted to finish the series on a high note rather than wait for it to take a radical dive in the ratings. It's the same philosophy I used as a professional tae kwon do karate [middleweight] champion six years in a row. I didn't go after the seventh world title because I was 34 years old and there was a chance of losing. I wanted to leave as a winner."
All things considered, Mr. Norris believes that "Walker" was an invaluable tool in learning how to act after 23 years in the business.
"Bruce Willis says he got his degree in acting by doing the television series 'Moonlighting,' and it's really true," he muses. "It takes a lot longer to learn the nuts and bolts of acting when you're only doing one movie per year. Eleven months a year on 'Walker' gave me a whole different perspective on the art of acting."
"Walker," universally regarded as a family-friendly show, never attracted a lot of positive media attention. Some of the negative observations, including excessive violence and wooden acting in certain episodes, were well deserved.
A realist, Mr. Norris is hardly surprised by the occasional slings and arrows, but wishes that TV critics had given the show serious attention when it warranted it.
"The only genuine disappointment I had was not getting any kind of award nomination for 'Lucas,' a very special two-hour episode starring little Haley Joel Osment from 'The Sixth Sense,' " Mr. Norris says. "He played a boy who was born with AIDS and Walker wound up adopting him when the mother died. Then he, too, passed away… .
"It was a very, very powerful and emotional episode a story that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life," he continues. "Not only did I discover what an incredible talent little Haley is, but my work surpassed everything I've done in the film business over the years. But, the press tossed it aside and I chose not to dwell on it. I've had the same problem with most of my films. But, if you keep working, you shouldn't be too upset."
Ignoring criticism is one of several important things about the acting business that Mr. Norris learned from Steve McQueen, once a student in one of his martial-arts classes.
"McQueen told me 23 years ago that the key to success in Hollywood is getting people to come watch you on the screen. If they watch, you'll keep working no matter what the media says. I guess most people take criticism personally, but I've never taken it seriously one way or another."
While resting and mulling over his future plans which includes his brother, director-executive producer Aaron Norris, and his children, Eric, Mike and Dinah, all involved in his production company on various levels Mr. Norris and his buff wife (a former deputy sheriff in Northern California) hawk the Total Gym in TV commercials.
The pride of Ryan, Okla., has used their home fitness machines for the weight-challenged for 25 years, but finally consented to endorsing the product through infomercials six years ago.
"And, here we are, $300 million later," Mr. Norris says with a laugh. "And I only get a little bit … well, not as much as they do."

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