Where Is Jean-Claude Van Damme These Days?

If someone were to create the Mount Rushmore of action stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme's chiseled face would easily appear alongside the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Muscles from Brussels established himself as a must-see attraction in the late '80s and early '90s thanks to powerhouse films such as "Bloodsport," "Kickboxer," and "Universal Soldier." He possessed a special type of poise and attitude in his on-screen presence, delivering a combination of high kicks, splits, and quirky one-liners that audiences couldn't get enough of.

However, the guns-and-puns approach made popular by JCVD and his fellow action superstars waned in appeal at the turn of the millennium. The genre and its audience evolved, welcoming in the new guard of performers such as Vin Diesel and Jason Statham. Suddenly, Van Damme wasn't the man anymore; instead, he became lost in a plethora of straight-to-DVD releases and nostalgia memes about the time when he punched out a snake in 1993's "Hard Target."

Like any true movie star, though, he never faded away completely. He waited for the upswing, striking again with his trademark roundhouse kick. While he may never reach the same peak of popularity he did in the '90s, Van Damme has more than kept himself busy since his heyday and experienced a unique comeback filled with commercials, video games, and saving Chihuahuas.

Jean-Claude Van Damme came full circle in his career

The 1980s and '90s provided Jean-Claude Van Damme with no shortage of hits. Even if the films were never critical darlings, no one cared — they found their audience, and that's all that mattered. However, the 2000s proved to be a strange time for the actor. Movies like 2001's "The Order" and 2003's "In Hell" went straight to DVD, struggling to garner the same level of attention as his earlier filmography.

In 2008, Van Damme hit a turning point when he played a semi-fictionalized version of himself as a has-been movie star in the crime drama "JCVD." The film received praise for its self-awareness and refreshing honesty, earning an 84% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The following year, Van Damme returned to his old stomping grounds in "Universal Soldier: Regeneration," which brought him and Dolph Lundgren together once again to play the roles of Luc Deveraux and Andrew Scott respectively. While the two weren't in the story as much as fans may have anticipated, The A.V. Club's Tom Breihan considered it a movie that gave JCVD's career a necessary boost. Breihan complimented the actor's portrayal of the character, writing: "Van Damme gives a thoughtful, damaged performance as someone who only knows violence." It was a full-circle moment for Van Damme as he began to revisit his past franchises. He returned as Luc Deveraux for 2012's "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," and he also appeared in 2016's "Kickboxer: Vengeance" and 2018's "Kickboxer: Retaliation."

He had quite the encounter with Vladimir Putin

In 2010, news broke that Jean-Claude Van Damme had been spotted with then-Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin at a bare-knuckle fighting event in Sochi, Russia. The two were reported to have conversed and shared a meal together in an evening filled with blood-soaked action. Putin's spokesperson confirmed the pair had met, but this encounter turned into something of an internet urban legend since no one could actually believe they met under these circumstances. It sounded way too much like a movie.

In 2019, Van Damme sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to clear the air about the various myths surrounding his career and life, including his encounter with Putin. The Belgian actor confirmed that he did meet Putin at a bare-knuckle event. He explained how they exchanged pleasantries and everything seemed to be going fine; however, events took a turn for the worse as JCVD reached for his bag, which was under his chair.

"I go for my bag to take my chapstick while the fight is happening," he said. "As soon as I go to my bag, I've got 20 security guys coming at me." According to Van Damme, Putin's security believed the actor was reaching for a weapon, but he was able to explain how he only wanted to get his chapstick, and matters soon de-escalated.

Jean-Claude Van Damme made the leap to kids' animation

Jean-Claude Van Damme's filmography isn't exactly overflowing with family-friendly projects. With all the blood, kicks, and splits, the actor's movies tend to appeal to more mature audiences. However, he took an unexpected leap in 2011 when he appeared in "Kung Fu Panda 2." In the animated sequel, he plays the martial arts crocodile known as Master Croc.

In a behind-the-scenes interview, Van Damme explained his initial reaction when he was told he would play a crocodile. "I go, 'A crocodile? But [his] legs are so short. The front. Back. Am I going to be able to kick and everything?'" he said. "And they told me, 'You're going to use your tail a lot...' We're all laughing in the studio."

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson explained how she felt a martial arts franchise such as "Kung Fu Panda" could use a little bit of JCVD magic, and she was happy that he agreed to play the part. The actor himself found it funny that Nelson envisioned him as a crocodile whenever she spoke to him. Van Damme must have had a great time on the film, because he would return to voice the character for 2016's "Kung Fu Panda 3."

He said Hollywood blacklisted him

Hollywood is all about the rise and fall. As quickly as the entertainment industry creates a star, it's equally capable of extinguishing their flame. However, even Jean-Claude Van Damme's career lull surprised pundits and fans. After all, he had been a bankable and fan-favorite performer for a while, so to see him disappear like he did left many people puzzled about what happened.

According to Van Damme, the reason for this is simple: He asked for too much money and was blacklisted from the industry. After 1994's "Timecop" made over $100 million, the actor received a bumper offer from Universal Pictures, which would have seen him make $12 million per movie for three films. That wasn't enough for him, though, as he wanted $20 million per film like Jim Carrey, who had become one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood at the time.

Speaking to The Guardian, Van Damme said: "I was making movie after movie, and in between movies I was doing promotion. I was tired. Everything I was touching was making money. Jim Carrey was being paid a fortune. And I wanted to play with the system. Like an idiot. Ridiculous." The actor said the studio didn't even entertain the conversation and it hit his career hard. "I was on the blacklist. That was it."

JCVD made a viral Volvo commercial

In November 2013, Jean-Claude Van Damme found himself making headlines again. This time, it wasn't for a brand-new film or his behind-the-scenes behavior. Instead, it involved his iconic pose and a vehicle brand. To show off the stability of its trucks, Volvo released a commercial that showcased Van Damme doing his trademark split between two moving trucks to the soundtrack of Enya's "Only Time." Naturally, the world paid attention, and the ad racked up more than 118 million views on YouTube alone.

Reportedly, this viral marketing worked for Volvo too, as its truck sales increased that same month, proving Van Damme's pulling power. For the actor, though, he admitted to USA Today that he had some apprehension about doing this specific stunt. "In action films that involve stunts there is always a risk," he said. "I would be less than candid if I didn't admit that I was concerned from time to time. When you are not concerned, you get careless, and then you get hurt." According to JCVD, he nailed it in one take as he lost himself in the serenity of Enya's dreamy song.

He played a comedic, fictionalized version of himself in Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Jean-Claude Van Damme showed he wasn't afraid to get meta by appearing as a fictionalized version of himself in Mabrouk el Mechri's 2008 film "JCVD." He took the chance to do it again in 2016's "Jean-Claude Van Johnson." The action-comedy series sees Van Damme play himself; however, it's revealed his movie career is simply a cover for his real job as a secret agent, and shenanigans ensue. The show ran for a single season on Amazon Prime Video.

For Van Damme, the role allowed him the opportunity to flex his comedy (and action) muscles, while he connected with his character's realization that fame isn't everything it's cut out to be. Speaking to ComicBook.com, "Jean-Claude Van Johnson" director Peter Atencio recalled that the series was so closely intertwined with Van Damme's own life that it even fooled the actor at one point.

"One day he came up to me on set, and he was dead serious, and he just grabbed me by the shoulders and was like, 'Peter, be honest with me, there is no show. This is an intervention, yes?'" Atencio revealed. "And I was like, 'I hate to break it to you, Jean-Claude, but there is definitely a show that we're making. This is not just a therapy session for you.'"

He starred in a controversial ad

While a 2013 Volvo commercial brought the right kind of attention to Jean-Claude Van Damme and earned the brand a reported sales bump, the actor took part in another ad that raised a few eyebrows in January 2017. Undoubtedly, it must have been Van Damme's success with Volvo that drew Australian automotive servicing company Ultra Tune to seek him out for an appearance in its "Unexpected Situations" campaign.

In the commercial, two scantily clad women walk toward their car and notice a flat tire. A group of nefarious-looking men approach them, asking, "You ladies got car trouble?" Suddenly, Van Damme steps out of a nearby car, readying himself to fight off the group before they erupt into total fanboy euphoria and ask for selfies with the movie star. In the end, Van Damme explains how he won't always be around to help, but Ultra Tune is.

Ultra Tune released two versions of the ad. A controversial iteration featured one of the men swinging a baseball bat at the car's headlights before JCVD's arrival. This resulted in the commercial being banned by Australia's Ad Standards Board for showcasing "violence and threatening behavior towards women," as per Mumbrella. Ultra Tune denied the allegation before accepting the ruling and saying it would modify the ad.

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jason David Frank had a public confrontation

Who had Jean-Claude Van Damme and a "Power Rangers" actor clashing at a comic book convention on their 2017 bingo list? While it might sound like an episode of Van Damme's short-lived comedy series "Jean-Claude Van Johnson," it actually happened. At a Comic Con in Mexico, footage leaked of Jason David Frank and Van Damme in some kind of heated confrontation.

Speaking to FloCombat, Frank acknowledged the pair may have had issues from years earlier. It began when Van Damme reportedly snubbed Frank at the premiere of 1995's "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie." Then, in 2010, Frank challenged Van Damme to a fight after hearing the actor wanted someone to battle — but heard nothing back. Fast-forward to 2017, when the promoter of the convention asked Frank if Van Damme could share his green room. Frank agreed, but was then barred from using his room. Later, Van Damme's entourage invited Frank to take a photo with the actor, but when Van Damme came out of the room, Frank noticed several people had cameras out and claims he was confronted by Van Damme in an aggressive manner about his 2010 challenge. Frank didn't back down and locked JCVD in a hold against the wall before security pulled them apart.

In a later interview with Metro, Van Damme denied Frank's version of events, saying: "All he's saying is bulls***. All he's saying doesn't exist. This guy, I just say hello to him in Mexico. He came at me, I say hello and that's it."

He helped save a Chihuahua after an international incident

Jean-Claude Van Damme loves dogs, having many of his own at home. However, the actor's adoration for pups goes beyond the ones in his care. In 2020, the action star intervened in a story that had made international headlines.

As per The New York Times, reports emerged out of Norway that a Chihuahua called Raya was set to be euthanized because of inaccurate documentation when she entered the country from Bulgaria. Raya's owner, Alexey Iversen, started an online petition to save his dog, which came to the attention of JCVD. Subsequently, the actor posted a video on social media about Raya. He asked his followers to sign the petition and pledged his own financial assistance, while also pleading with the authorities to not put down the dog.

Van Damme's public support, coupled with the rise in petition signatures, resulted in the Norwegian officials announcing that Raya would not be euthanized and would be sent back to Bulgaria.

He finally played Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat

After three decades of fighting for the fate of the universe, "Mortal Kombat" continues to be one of the premier video game franchises. While the concept was always going to be about fists and boots to foes' limbs, the game could have looked much different had the original concept turned out as anticipated. As per Polygon, Midway Games' John Tobias and Ed Boon pitched "Van Damme: The Arcade Game" to Jean-Claude Van Damme, using a character resembling JCVD's "Bloodsport" character Frank Dux. They were turned down, but they reworked the character to become the egotistical action star named Johnny Cage and included him in the game that kickstarted the global phenomenon known as "Mortal Kombat."

For years afterward, fans begged for JCVD to portray Cage in a live-action adaptation. The actor even suggested he would be open to the opportunity if it came around. Finally, their worlds collided and Van Damme was cast as Cage; however, this wasn't in a movie or TV show. Instead, JCVD was added as an alternate skin for the character in 2023's "Mortal Kombat 1." Not only did Cage have Van Damme's likeness here, but he also had his voice, as the Belgian actor provided a host of smashing one-liners to delight players.

He launched his own whiskey brand

The best business tips advise people to diversify their portfolio and to not put all their eggs in one basket. Jean-Claude Van Damme paid attention and expanded his repertoire beyond splits and kicks to get into the whiskey game in October 2023. The actor explained to Hospitality Ireland how he had wanted to launch his own brand of whiskey for a while. When he spoke to his inner circle about the idea, he mentioned how he was looking at the American bourbon market, but a business partner suggested he look beyond that and explore Ireland's offerings.

"He then introduced me to the Old Oak whiskey label," Van Damme said, "which had yet to be launched and had been put together by some whiskey aficionados in Ireland." According to the official website, this relationship makes sense because "Old Oak Irish Whiskey embodies the dynamic spirit and boundless energy of Jean-Claude Van Damme."

Jean-Claude Van Damme continued his fight with Steven Seagal

Like Batman and Joker or Superman and Lex Luthor, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal appear doomed to be archrivals for the remainder of their time on Earth. The rumored feud between the pair kicked off in 1991 when Seagal questioned JCVD's martial arts credentials during an appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show." It has only continued since then, with the actors taking passive-aggressive — and sometimes outright aggressive — shots at each other whenever the opportunity presents itself. While the heat appeared to have cooled down around 2015 and they laid off talking about each other in the press, Van Damme reignited the flames of controversy in 2023.

In a conversation with The Telegraph, JCVD couldn't help himself when the topic of his longtime nemesis cam up. In cheeky fashion, he explained that his strategy to defeat Seagal in a fight would be to tire him out, then questioned Seagal's fitness level and called him "overweight." Van Damme also revealed that Mandalay Entertainment CEO and Hollywood executive Peter Guber had once tried to orchestrate a fight night between the action stars. "They were having an idea to have a fight between me and Steven at The Mirage," Van Damme said. "Twenty million each. He didn't take the fight."