NEW YORK—In 1983, the future looked bright for Hans Lundgren. A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Lundgren had already schooled at the Royal Institute of Technology, attended Washington State University on an academic scholarship, and completed his masters degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia. Then, the young scientist was awarded the prestigious Fullbright Scholarship to MIT. But it was while he was on his way to Boston to continue his studies that the burgeoning scientist's life took a fateful turn—one that would leave Lundgren fighting for a normal existence for the next 20 years. While working at the trendy Limelight Disco in New York, he met noted drama coach Warren Robertson, who spotted in Lundgren the early signs of fame.
"[Lundgren] was stunned by the diagnosis; he thought he was too young and emotionally healthy to be an actor," said Michael Portnoy, Lundgren's manager. "People with so much intellectual potential never think something like stardom can happen to them. But he was a 6'6" karate champ with striking blond hair—an IQ of 160 meant nothing."
In 1985, Lundgren made his feature-film debut in the James Bond movie A View To A Kill.
"It all happened so suddenly," Portnoy said. "He got Venz in A View To A Kill. Then he was informed he had the role of Ivan Drago, Sylvester Stallone's opponent in Rocky IV. "
Following the major breakout of his catch phrase from Rocky IV, "I must break you," Lundgren couldn't deny it any longer: Hans, now rechristened Dolph, had fame.
"Dolph thought he had it under control," longtime friend and fellow fame survivor Chazz Palminteri said. "Maybe it was because so many people close to him were similarly afflicted—his girlfriend Grace Jones… fellow non-native English speaker Arnold Schwarzenegger."
"It didn't help that the public never understood the complications of his fame," Palminteri said. "People all over were walking around, saying his lines, styling their hair like Dolph's looked after going through months of shooting Rocky. They didn't care that a normal life was at stake."
After a year away from the box office, Lundgren's symptoms went into remission. However, his condition flared up unexpectedly, when he got Red Scorpion, The Punisher, and, most seriously, Masters Of The Universe.
After this, it seemed that Lundgren's fame would overtake his life. His condition was so severe that people stared at him on the street. He could rarely leave the house without the help of an entourage.
"But even at the height of it, Lundgren refused to stop fighting," Palminteri said. "Finally, he made some very important choices about his life, and as a direct result, things began to turn around."
Palminteri was likely referring to the rumors of Lundgren's mid-'90s participation in a controversial Hollywood treatment—it is said that, in the hope of preventing the further spread of fame, Lundgren took massive doses of B-movies.
According to Palminteri, Lundgren's part in Universal Soldier brought his fame into remission. The pairing of Lundgren with another heavily accented actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme, was enough to crush his case of fame head on.
"It was a risky treatment," Portnoy said. "Stallone tried a similar one, but to this day, he suffers from residual fame. In Lundgren's case, though, it seemed to work. People wanted to see a vulnerability in their action stars, but Dolph stayed strong and fought this trend. Had Lundgren lacked the courage to suffer through roles like Maj. Jack Holloway in Storm Catcher, he might be famous today."
Lundgren continued to act in films, but by 1997, when he appeared opposite Michael Sarrazin in the action thriller The Peacekeeper, his fame was fully under control.Though Lundgren has appeared in 11 films since then, most people would be hard-pressed to name one of them.
"By using prescription sunglasses and a hat, Mr. Lundgren is now able to live a normal life," Portnoy said. "At most, he may be recognized as 'that Russian guy.' There's always the danger of a relapse—for instance, if a new generation forms a kitsch appreciation for his body of work, or if he carelessly slips into a series of smaller roles of a high caliber. But, given that he's just completed his directorial debut with a film called The Defender—in which he co-stars with Jerry Springer—I don't see that as a concern for the near future."