FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Hollywood action star Chuck Norris, known for his martial arts prowess and tough-guy image, has become a cult figure among the U.S. military in Iraq and an unlikely hero for some in Iraq’s security forces.
A small cardboard shrine is dedicated to Norris at a U.S. military helicopter hub in Baghdad, and comments lauding the manliness and virility of the actor have been left on toilet walls across Iraq and even in neighboring Kuwait, soldiers say.
“The fastest way to a man’s heart is with Chuck Norris’s fist,” reads one message at the shrine, which consists of a signed photo of the actor surrounded by similar statements.
“Chuck Norris puts the laughter in manslaughter,” reads one and “Chuck Norris divides by zero,” reads another.
Known as Chuck Norris “facts”, the claims have already become an Internet phenomenon, and scores are featured on www.chucknorrisfacts.com, including “Superman wears Chuck Norris pyjamas”, and “There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Chuck Norris lives in Oklahoma”.
The actor has visited Iraq several times and was made an honorary Marine last year. Some 20 U.S. military personnel and support staff spoken to by Reuters could recite at least one Norris “fact”, despite many having not visited the Web site.
U.S. troops in Iraq say his support for them and Norris’ invincible image has made him their idol and insist the exaggerated and satirical claims are not meant to mock him.
“The jokes all add to his legend. They’re not derogatory. He’s an icon,” said Sergeant Joe Lindsay at a base in Falluja in Iraq’s Western Anbar province, which Norris has visited.
Bearded and muscled, Norris shot to fame fighting kung fu legend Bruce Lee in the 1972 film The Way of the Dragon, and later films show him devastating groups of men with one kick.
“Norris visited Iraq when violence was its worst and other celebrities were skittish. He’s one of the guys,” U.S. military public affairs officer Specialist Mark Braden said in Baghdad.
“The Marines love him. He’s like a mythical legend,” Staff Sergeant Amy Forsythe in Falluja said.
Soldiers cited many reasons for his appeal. Some appreciated his films and fighting ability — Norris is a martial arts guru, and many of his films have military themes.
Others said the masculine and plainly dressed actor was an antidote to the preening and moisturized metrosexual male.
Some praised his Christian and political values. The actor recently endorsed Republican Party presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, though in the spirit of the Norris “facts”, Marines argued it was Huckabee who endorsed Norris.
“He’s helped us a lot. The appeal is also his martial arts, and sheer physical presence ... I don’t think I go a day without hearing a Norris joke,” said Corporal Ricardo Jones in Falluja.
Norris’ appeal is not restricted to U.S. troops either. At an Iraqi police graduation ceremony in Falluja, graduates called out for their “Chuck Norris” to pose with them for photos.
“Truthfully, I didn’t know who he was. I asked the Americans, and they said he was a great fighter, and that’s why they named me after him. They showed me a video, and it’s true, he’s a great fighter” said police trainer Mohammed Rasheed.
With his handle-bar moustache, Rasheed has a vague resemblance to Norris.
Another police trainer said Chuck Norris was a role model for the police in Falluja, which until 2007 was an al Qaeda stronghold and the scene of fierce battles with security forces.
“I’ve seen his videos, he’s a hero. He saves the city, he protects women and children and he fights crime wherever it is. We should all be like Chuck Norris,” Khaled Hussein said.
Editing by Matthew Jones