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Celebrity Martial Artists, Part 3: Lost Martial Arts Stars
Some say that nostalgia isn't what it used to be. But the truth is, what was hot once before is hot again. Comeback tours for aging rockers are all over the place: Crosby, Stills, & Nash, tons of 80's bands, even that Santana guy (Britney Spears fans among us are saying, "Who?"). Aging stars are making a comeback as corporate pitchmen: Morgan Fairchild for Old Navy, or William Shatner for Priceline.com.
So whatever happened to the martial arts stars of yesteryear? We took a spin around the web to find out.
Sho Kosugi rode the 80's ninja craze to stardom in aptly named movies like Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, 9 Deaths of the Ninja, well, you get the idea. But after the ninja craze died, Kosugi vanished from the martial arts scene, much like the lone ninja characters he portrayed.
Kosugi reemerged briefly in 1996 to capitalize on yet another martial arts craze: martial arts as aerobics. "Ninjaerobics" had all the elements of a successful aerobics TV show: great locations (the show would travel to famed martial arts sites around the world), plenty of spandex-clad, super-fit models, and star power (Kosugi himself). Unfortunately, the show never took off, and Kosugi disappeared back again into the ether.
"Kung Fu Jim" almost stole the show away from Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon with his hip bad dude 'tude and flashy martial arts skills. Hollywood took notice, and Kelly was soon starring in his own films. It was the golden age of blaxpoitation, and fans cheered as Kelly took on the mob in Black Belt Jones--probably Kelly's best film.
Kelly took on minor roles here and there, but dropped from public view in the 80's and 90's--until zine BaddAzz MoFo tracked him down for an interview (published on the Web by mega-zine Giant Robot). Still as kickin' fit as ever, Kelly is now seeking a new career as a tennis pro. I'm sure he's as exciting to watch on the court as he was on the big screen.
David Carradine is probably best known for his role as "Kwai Chang Caine" in the 1970's television show Kung Fu--a series that was originally supposed to star Bruce Lee. Studio heads felt Lee's English skills weren't up to the role, and Carradine rocketed to pop culture fame.
Carradine revised his 70's character into a 90's new age master in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. Known on the Web as KF:TLC, the syndicated show portrayed Carradine as the same-named grandson of the Caine that roamed the Old West; still a Zen priest, but this time Dad to a big-city cop (played by Chris Potter). KF:TLC was cancelled after a 4-year run, but can still be seen on cable. And, a very vocal fan contingent is still working toward bringing the series back. We wish them the best of luck!
Carradine's still acting, mostly in small-screen movies for cable and video. He's also a busy writer/composer, with more than 60 songs and numerous screenplays to his credit.
Rothrock, national gung fu forms champion in the 1980's, parlayed a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial into martial arts movie stardom. She was doing Hong Kong movies before Hong Kong movies were cool; before Hollywood caught on to the killer action of John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Sammo Hung. Partnered with Bond Girl Michelle Yeoh in her first film Yes Madam, Rothrock went on to make more than 30 action films.
Rothrock, who recently (8 March) celebrated her birthday, took a hiatus from film work to go on the mommy track. After averaging almost 2 films per year, that must have been a long-awaited break. I'm sure we'll see more great fighting scenes from "The Rock" in future years.
For more information on these lost martial arts stars, consult the following links. Also, check out our previous articles on celebrity martial artists, including football players, politicians, figure skaters, and Elvis Presley.
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