Jim Belushi, Marshall Geller, and Chuck Norris circa 1997
Ithink everybody needs a hero. Whether you're young or old, you need someone you can look up to," actor Chuck Norris says as he relaxes on his Texas ranch. "I think kids today need someone to emulate, because a lot of times they don't have that at home. Kids have to find it elsewhere. And a lot of kids today look in a negative direction. They look up to drug addicts, gang members, because they don't have positive role models."
Norris is not afraid of the terms "hero" or "role model," nor the responsibilities that come with living up to those titles, and he feels that more celebrities need to embrace these concepts. "I don't approve of athletes or celebrities who say that they don't want to be a role model for children. The kids still look up to them, and the least they can do is not allow their lives to go in a negative direction. They have a responsibility to children whether they like it or not. And I think they should adhere to that responsibility."
From his championship career as a martial artist and his global success in the action adventure film genre, to starring in a successful television series and starting his own cigar line, Chuck Norris has managed to achieve every career goal that he has set for himself. Still, with all of the success, fame, money and toys he has accumulated over the years, Norris isn't satisfied. There is still one battle that he is devoting his life to winning.
In 1990, with the support of President George Bush, Norris launched Kick Drugs Out of America, a program that teaches martial arts in place of standard physical education classes to at-risk youths. "Kick Drugs is about providing kids with a family atmosphere," Norris says, "giving them someone to look up to and to emulate. And to get them set on a positive course in life." Such a program, of course, costs money. To help finance that dream, Norris co-created a line of cigars.
The idea came during a conversation he had one night with his assistant, Winston West. While smoking cigars in Norris's yard, the two reflected upon the millions of dollars being made from such novelty items as hats, bumper stickers and shirts, and Norris wondered, "Why can't we come up with our own phenomenon?" Then he hit upon a brainstorm. "Why don't we open up a cigar lounge and we'll call it Lone Wolf?" proposed Norris, resurrecting the name from his character in the 1983 action film Lone Wolf McQuade. "We can sell Lone Wolf paraphernalia and build [Kick Drugs] up that way."
Eventually, I was introduced to [investment banker] Marshall Geller and we decided to start our own brand of cigars with [actor] Jim Belushi [and other investors]. We all went down to the Dominican Republic and they asked us what kind of cigars we wanted. I said that I wanted a very mellow cigar. I didn't want a cigar that was going to burn my throat. Jim said he wanted a cigar that would, in effect, blow his head off. So we have different blends of our cigars that go from mellow to strong."
The brand has three blends, all produced in the Dominican Republic: Lobo Rojo, made by La Aurora; Signature Select, made by MATASA; and Vintage Series, produced by Palmarejo Cigars. "When we were making the cigar line we were following our passion," says Belushi. "We followed our own tastes and spent a lot of time crafting them.
Lone Wolf has a new cigar in the works, the Lobito ("baby wolf" in Spanish), that will be approximately 4 inches by 30 ring. "It's a good 10- to 15-minute smoke," says Michael Dunne, senior vice president of operations. Made with Connecticut-shade wrapper and Dominican filler, Lobito will be machine made due to its small size, Dunne adds. The company plans to introduce the cigars, sold in five-packs, in August. Lone Wolf has a few cigar outlets as well. Its cigar lounge, Lone Wolf Dallas, opened in December. There is also a Lone Wolf cigar store in Santa Monica, California, and a Lone Wolf lounge at Merv Griffin's Beverly Hills Hotel.
Norris acknowledges that a role model might take some flack for publicly smoking a cigar, but he sees nothing incongruous about his choice.
"Listen, you've got to be 21 to be smoking a cigar in the first place," Norris says. "And smoking a cigar is an experience, not like smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. A cigar is for relaxation. I do enjoy cigar smoking and I'm old enough to smoke." He smokes one cigar a day--a Lone Wolf. "Anything done in excess is going to be bad for you, whether it's eating, drinking or whatever," he adds. "The key to enjoying cigar smoking is moderation.
"Not content to be a celebrity who says one thing in public and does another thing in private, Norris does not equivocate about his enjoyment of cigars. "I'm not going to hide out in some back room and tell the world that I don't smoke cigars. I'm not going to lie about it. And when I created my cigar line, I did not do it so that I, personally, would make any money. It was a way of generating income for my foundation; all of my portion of the profits goes into Kick Drugs Out of America.
"Norris's partner Geller agrees. "I don't think kids look at Chuck Norris and say, 'I'm going to smoke a cigar.'
People form whatever habits they form based on whether they like something or not. The world wants to blame everybody else for what they do, and that really disturbs me. The man is a role model and he does a lot of charity work for what he believes in. What does that have to do with smoking a cigar?
Norris is sitting by the lake at his ranch in Navasota, Texas, on a brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon as he uncorks a bottle of Pinot Noir, lights a well-aged cigar and shares the story of his life. He was born Carlos Ray Norris, the eldest of three sons, in Ryan, Oklahoma, in 1940. His mother was of Irish and English descent; his father, a Cherokee Indian, deserted the family early in Norris's life. By the time Norris was 10 years old, his family had moved 16 times and he found himself in the unlikely role of caretaker to his two younger brothers, Weiland and Aaron. The experience taught the young Norris about the importance of family. With the strong influence of his mother, he also learned that with determination and persistence, there was no dream that would ever elude his grasp.
Appropriately enough, the man who plays the Lone Star lawman Cordell Walker each week on CBS's "Walker, Texas Ranger" once dreamed of becoming a police officer. Too young to become an officer immediately after high school, Norris spent the next four years in the Air Force, where he joined the military police. He was sent to Korea, where he began martial arts training to further his plans for law enforcement.
"Judo was the thing in the '50s and '60s," he says. "Karate wasn't even a word back then. I enrolled in judo class at Osan Air Force Base in Korea, and two weeks into training, I broke my shoulder."Ironically, the setback propelled him into a discipline that would eventually change his life. "I had a sling on my arm and I couldn't train, so I went into the village and I kept seeing these heads pop up from behind a knoll. I moseyed up and I saw these Koreans doing these jump-spinning kicks in the air, and I was completely mesmerized. I couldn't believe a human body could do all of those things: jumps, heel kicks and all that. And they looked so mean, I was afraid to go over and ask what they were doing. My judo instructor on the base told me it was called tang soo do. He took me back to the village and introduced me to Mr. Shin, the instructor, and I started training while I still had one arm in a cast. I was training every day and every night, five hours a day, six days a week, and on Sunday, I studied judo. My arm eventually healed, and eventually the name of tang soo do was changed to tae kwan do."Martial arts was to have many emotional as well as physical benefits for Norris. "By the time I left Korea, I had my black belt in tae kwan do and my brown belt in judo, and an interesting transformation was taking place. When I was growing up, I was a real shy kid. I guess not having a father image, a man to give you that strength of character, contributed to that. Martial arts really changed all that. That's why I'm such an advocate of the martial arts--because it does help you change your life in a positive direction. It helps you to be able to communicate, to be more self-assured, and it raises your self-esteem, which is the most important thing. It instills discipline and respect, which is lacking in many young kids. Discipline was the most important lesson I learned very early on in my martial arts career."Norris returned home from the service in 1962 and decided to moonlight as a martial arts instructor to earn a little extra money for his family, giving lessons in his parents' backyard. "I married Dianne in 1958, before I went into the service. After I got out, I went to work at Northrop Aviation because our first son, Michael, was on the way." He tried out and passed his exam to enter the police force, but he was unwilling to wait the six months before he could enter the police academy. He decided instead to open up a martial arts school in Torrance, California, quit his job at Northrop and started teaching full time. A year later, he opened up a second school, then a third."I decided that the best way to get more students was to become a karate fighter. I entered my first tournament in Salt Lake City, took three of my students in my old, beat-up car--which barely made the trip--and we all fought in the tournament. My three students won and I lost. I drove back to California and they held their trophies. Philosophies are developed through experience, and I was really upset by losing. I said, 'While I may lose again, I'll never lose the same way twice.' That way you don't lose; you gain knowledge. Eventually, you realize that the only time you ever really lose is when you don't learn something from the experience.
Giving up on his dreams was never an option. In 1964, he won the L.A. Open. "I thought, if I could win the L.A. Open, why not the state? So in 1965, I won the state title. Then I thought, why not the national?" Norris proceeded to do just that, capturing the All-American karate title in New York in 1966. That same year, he won the international middleweight championship.
People smashed the front doors of a Walmart in Peoria, Ill. They ransacked an Apple store in Philadelphia and broke the windows at Nordstrom’s flagship in Seattle, its hometown, while throwing merchandise into the crowds outside.The outbreak of protests and riots during the weekend roiled retailers of all stripes, adding new stress to an industry that has already been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. But even as major chains boarded up stores and halted operations, they largely sought to convey empathy for protesters following the death of a black man, George Floyd, while in police custody, and did not condemn the damage to their businesses. Many large retailers would not discuss the extent of the damage or how many stores they had to close because of the unrest.“The events of this weekend are one more painful reminder that injustice remains in our world,” Nordstrom said on its website on Monday. “We can fix the damage to our stores. Windows and merchandise can be replaced. We continue to believe as strongly as ever that tremendous change is needed to address the issues facing Black people in our country today.”Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, said in a memo to employees: “We must remain vigilant in standing together against racism and discrimination. Doing so is not only at the heart of the values of our company, it’s at the core of the most basic principles of human rights, dignity and justice.”Target, which is based in Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd was killed, said over the weekend that about 200 stores would close or have shorter hours as a result of protests and looting. On Monday, the chain said that it was no longer sharing the number of affected stores “as the situation remains incredibly dynamic,” and emphasized its commitment to rebuilding and reopening damaged locations while supporting the Minneapolis and St. Paul communities.CVS said that more than 250 locations across 21 states faced varying levels of damage from protest activity and that 60 stores remained closed while repairs were made. Adidas, which also sells the Reebok brand, said that after some stores were damaged during protests, it decided to close all its retail stores in the United States “until further notice.” Nike and Apple also closed some stores.
Companies across the business spectrum issued public statements of support for the protesters. Netflix wrote that “to be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter.” Amazon said starkly that “the brutal and inequitable treatment of Black people in our country must stop.” WarnerMedia brands including HBO changed their Twitter descriptions to “#BlackLivesMatter.” And the influential trade group of corporate America, the Business Roundtable, said its members “share the anger and pain felt by so many Americans at the recent killings of unarmed black men and women.”Denise Moore, a member of the City Council in Peoria, Ill., said there seemed to be no obvious pattern for which stores were targeted and damaged. A laundromat, a shoe store that sold largely orthopedic shoes and a Walmart — all had their windows smashed.Ms. Moore, who is the first African-American woman elected to the Peoria City Council and represents a district with a large minority population, said she found the professions of empathy from large retailers like Walmart to ring hollow.“It would be better for Walmart to respect their workers and pay them a livable wage,” Ms. Moore said on Monday. “They take so much from this community.”A Walmart spokesman said total compensation and benefits for full- and part-time store employees averaged to more than $18 an hour.ImageMinnesota State Police officers guarding a Target store in St. Paul.Minnesota State Police officers guarding a Target store in St. Paul.Credit...John Minchillo/Associated PressThe Walmart in Peoria was one of several dozen that were damaged over the weekend. Social media and local news reports showed images of looting at dozens of Walmart stores from California to Massachusetts, and many locations had to close temporarily because of the unrest.In a statement, the Walmart spokesman said the company was “monitoring this situation closely as it develops and will continue closing stores in select markets as a safety precaution for our customers and associates.”The retailer said it would continue to pay workers while the stores remained closed.Target and Gap, which also owns Old Navy, Athleta, Intermix and Banana Republic, also said that they would pay employees for scheduled shifts at closed stores and potentially redeploy workers to other locations.
Still, the damage comes just as retailers, especially those that sell clothing and other nonessential items, were beginning to open up after they were forced to shutter in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Many luxury retailers had already boarded up their stores in March as the pandemic took hold. And retailers like Nordstrom had their sales plummet 40 percent in the first quarter.“We’re all crossing our fingers that this period will be a short one,” said Matthew W. Lazenby, chief executive of Whitman Family Development, which manages the high-end Bal Harbour Shops outside Miami.“This pandemic has hit retail hard and of course, just as a lot of these stores are starting to try to bounce back, the civil unrest that spread this weekend has forced a lot of stores to close,” Mr. Lazenby said. “People are already nervous and already have some trepidation around the public health risk so this on top of that doesn’t make it any better.”Even though the shopping center is miles from the site of protests in downtown Miami and in Fort Lauderdale, a handful of retailers, including Tiffany, Moncler, Saks Fifth Avenue and Intermix, which is owned by Gap, erected barricades in front of their stores on Sunday, Mr. Lazenby said. The stores took the step as Miami-Dade County announced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Sunday, he said, adding that the center had just reopened on May 18.Even for retailers that were deemed essential and allowed to remain open during the pandemic, the looting has created another challenge that will mostly be borne by the companies’ already beleaguered work force.Retailers like Walmart have been paying bonuses to their employees who have faced the daily risk of contracting the virus at work. But now those workers are confronting an additional threat of mayhem in their stores. Employees who were set to return to work at other retailers after being furloughed are being delayed as stores close to repair damage from the looting.“When these stores have to close, that is putting more low-income people out of work and that is not any good,” said Ms. Moore.
If you have read my previous dispatches from California over the years, then you know that I have consistently argued that finding a place to smoke a cigar in Los Angeles is not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Sure, you can't smoke anywhere you want and you can't smoke everywhere, but if you want a comfortable place to enjoy a robusto, there is plenty of choice. That, however, is not the case for Santa Monica. The antismoking sentiment is so strong that enjoying a cigar in a cigar shop is no longer possible. So, David Weiss, the owner of Lone Wolf Cigar Company, which has a shop in Santa Monica, opened up a cigar lounge and club in April 2014 just across the border in Los Angeles.The space is elegant in its simplicity and now has been remodeled to include a space for non-members to sit and enjoy a cigar purchased from the humidor. Two coffee tables are each surrounded by three comfortable leather chairs. They sit in front of the counter and extend the lounge's hospitality.“We had a lot of requests from a lot of different people to come in and have a cigar,” explained Weiss. “A lot of them are just passing through and it made more sense to invite them in and introduce them to Lone Wolf.”The update of the front space closed off a door that led directly to the larger private lounge. Now, members enter through the humidor into an expansive room that reminds one of a library or dining hall, with couches, chairs and a conference table. The light fixtures are reminiscent of the "flying saucer" towers at the site of the 1964 New York World's Fair. There is seating for about 100. The floor is cement and the ceilings high. During the day, jazz and blues are on the sound system. That could change later in the day. There are two TVs. Espresso and soft drinks are available.This is a very L.A. scene. Members come in and use the space as a place to conduct business, though not in a hardcore way. Most of it is guys on their computers (there is WiFi) either writing the new blockbuster or negotiating a big commercial mortgage. OK, I'm speculating, but it could happen. There is a sort of shift change around 4 p.m. as more members come in from their offices and light up. Like most such establishments in L.A., members can bring in food from nearby restaurants. The lounge is a private club with a revised yearly membership of $1,000 with no cigar purchases.