Date of Birth
27 November 1940, San Francisco, California, USA
Date of Death
20 July 1973, Hong Kong (cerebral edema)
Lee Jun Fan
5′ 7½” (1.71 m)
Bruce Lee remains the greatest icon of martial arts cinema, and a key figure of modern popular culture. Had it not been for the amazing Bruce Lee and his incredible movies in the early 1970s, it’s arguable whether or not the martial arts film genre would have ever penetrated and influenced mainstream western cinema & audiences the way it has over the past four decades.
The influence of Asian martial arts cinema can be seen today in so many other film genres including comedies, action, drama, science fiction, horror and animation…..and they all have their roots in the phenomenon that was Bruce Lee.
Lee was born “Lee Jun Fan” 27 November 1940 in San Francisco, the son of Lee Hoi Chuen, a singer with the Cantonese Opera. Approximately, one year later the family returned to Kowloon in Hong Kong and at the age of 5, a young Bruce begins appearing in children’s roles in minor films including The Birth of Mankind (1946) and Fu gui fu yun (1948). At the age of 12, Bruce commenced attending La Salle College, and was later beaten up by a street gang, which inspired him to take up martial arts training under the tutelage of “Sifu Yip Man” who schooled Bruce in wing chun kung fu for a period of approximately five years. This was the only formalized martial arts training ever undertaken by Lee. The talented & athletic Bruce also took up cha-cha dancing, and at the age of 18 won a major dance championship in Hong Kong.
However, his temper and quick fists got him in trouble the HK police on numerous occasions, and his parents suggested that he head off to the United States. Lee landed in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1959 and worked in a relative’s restaurant, however he eventually made his way to Seattle, Washington where he enrolled at university to study philosophy, and found the time to practice his beloved kung fu techniques. In 1963, Lee met Linda Emery (later his wife) and also opened his first kung fu school at 4750 University Way. During the early half of the 1960s, Lee became associated with many key martial arts figures in the USA including kenpo karate expert Ed Parker and tae kwon do master Jhoon Rhee. He made guest appearances at notable martial arts events including the Long Beach Nationals. Through one of these tournaments, Bruce met Hollywood hair stylist Jay Sebring who introduced him to TV producer William Dozier. Based on the runaway success of “Batman”, Dozier was keen to bring the cartoon character of “The Green Hornet” to TV and was on the lookout for an Oriental actor to play the Green Hornet’s sidekick, “Kato”. Around this time, Bruce also opened a second kung fu school in Oakland, California and relocated to Oakland to be closer to Hollywood.
Bruce’s screen test was successful, and “The Green Hornet” starring Van Williams aired in 1966 with mixed success. His fight scenes were sometimes obscured by unrevealing camera angles, but his dedication was such that he insisted his character behave like a perfect bodyguard, keeping his eyes on whoever might be a threat to his employer except when the script made this impossible. The show was surprisingly terminated after only one season (30 episodes), but by this time Lee was receiving more fan mail than the show’s nominal star. He then opened a third branch of his kung fu school in Los Angeles, and began providing personalized martial arts training to celebrities including film starsSteve McQueen and James Coburn as well as screenwriter Stirling Silliphant. In addition, he refined his prior knowledge of wing chun and incorporated aspects of other fighting styles such as traditional boxing and Okinawan karate. He also developed his own unique style “Jeet Kune Do” (Way of the Intercepting Fist). Another film opportunity then came his way, as he landed the small role of a stand over man named “Winslow Wong” who intimidates private eye James Garner in Marlowe (1969). Wong pays a visit to Garner and proceeds to demolish the investigator’s office with his fists and feet, finishing off with a spectacular high kick that shatters the light fixture. With this further exposure of his talents, Bruce then scored several guest appearances as a martial arts instructor to blind private eye James Franciscus on the TV series”Longstreet” (1971).
With his minor success in Hollywood and money in his pockets, Bruce returned for a visit to Hong Kong and was approached by film producerRaymond Chow who had recently started “Golden Harvest” productions. Chow was keen to utilize Lee’s strong popularity amongst young Chinese fans, and offered him the lead role in _Tang sha da xiong (1971)_ (aka “The Big Boss”). The film was directed by Wei Lo, shot in Thailand, on a very low budget and in terrible living conditions for cast and crew. However when it opened in Hong Kong, the film was an enormous hit! Young Chinese flocked in their thousands to see this ground breaking film starring a tough, athletic Chinese hero who dispensed justice with his fists and feet. Chow knew he had struck box office gold with Lee, and quickly assembled another script entitled The Chinese Connection (1972) (aka “The Chinese Connection”, aka “Fist of Fury”). The second film (with a slightly improved budget) was again directed byWei Lo and was set in Shanghai in the year 1900, with Lee returning to his school to find that his beloved master has been poisoned by the local Japanese karate school. Once again, he uncovers the evil doers and sets about seeking revenge on those responsible for murdering his teacher. The film features several superb fight sequences, and at the film’s conclusion, Lee refuses to surrender to the Japanese law and seemingly leaps to his death in a hail of police bullets!
Once more, Hong Kong streets were jammed back with thousands of fervent Chinese movie fans who could not get enough of the fearless Bruce Lee, and his second film went on to break the box office records set by the first! Lee then set up his own production company, Concord Productions, and set about guiding his film career personally by writing, directing and acting in his next film, _Meng long guojiang (1972)_ (aka “Way of the Dragon”, aka “Return of The Dragon”). A bigger budget, meant better locations and opponents, with the new film set in Rome, Italy and additionally starring hapkido expert Ing-Sik Whang, karate legend Robert Wall and seven times US karate champion Chuck Norris. Bruce plays a seemingly simple country boy sent to assist at a cousin’s restaurant in Rome, and finds his cousins are being bullied by local thugs for protection.
By now, Lee’s remarkable success in the Orient had come to the attention of Hollywood film executives and a script was hastily written pitching him as a secret agent penetrating an island fortress. Warner Bros. financed the film, and also insisted on B-movie tough guy John Saxon co-starring alongside Lee to give the film more Western appeal. The film culminates with another show stopping fight sequence between Lee and the key villain, Han, in a maze of mirrors. Shooting was completed in and around Hong Kong in early 1973 and in the subsequent weeks, Bruce was involved in completing over dubs and looping for the final cut. Various reports from friends and co-workers cite how he was not feeling well during this period, and on July 20th 1973 he lay down at the apartment of actress Betty Ting Pei after taking a headache tablet, and was later unable to be revived. A doctor was called, and Lee was taken to hospital by ambulance and pronounced dead that evening. The official finding was death due to a cerebral edema, caused by a reaction to the headache tablet. In other words, death by misadventure.
Chinese movie fans were absolutely shattered that their virile idol, had passed away at such a young age, and nearly 30,000 fans filed past his coffin in Hong Kong. A second, much smaller ceremony was held in Seattle, Washington and Bruce was laid to rest at Lake View Cemetary in Seattle with pall bearers including Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Dan Inosanto. Enter the Dragon (1973) was later released in the mainland United States, and was a huge hit with American audiences, which then prompted National General films to actively distribute his three prior movies to US theaters…each of them was a box office smash. Bruce Lee was an international film star after he had died!
Fans worldwide were still hungry for more Bruce Lee films, and thus remaining footage (completed before his death) of Lee fighting several opponents including Dan Inosanto, Hugh O’Brian and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was crafted into another film titled The Game of Death (1978). The film used a look alike actor and shadowy camera work to be substituted for the real Lee in numerous scenes. The film is a poor addition to the line up, and is only saved by the final twenty minutes and the footage of the real Bruce Lee battling his way up the tower. Amazingly, this same shoddy process was used to create Game of Death II (1981) (aka “Game of Death II”), with a look alike and more stunt doubles interwoven with a few brief minutes of footage of the real Bruce Lee.
Tragically, his son Brandon Lee, an actor and martial artist like his father, was killed in a freak accident on the set of The Crow (1994).
Bruce Lee was not only an amazing athlete and martial artist, but he possessed genuine superstar charisma and through a handful of films he left behind an indelible impression on the tapestry of modern cinema.
Often had a scene in his films where in a fight, he gets wounded. Standing stunned, he tastes his own blood and then he goes berserk wiping out any opponent in his path.
Made animal sounds when he fought to unnerve his foes and focus his strength. His characters were often proudly Chinese and battled foes who racially oppressed his people as in when he smashed a “No dogs or Chinese allowed” sign with a flying kick
Use of Jeet Kun Do, a form of martial arts he invented himself in which freedom of reaction was far more important than rigid form
Lightning fast moves and reflexes
Extremely well defined body and muscles
Ranked #100 in Empire (UK) magazine’s “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time” list. [October 1997]
Father of Brandon Lee and Shannon Lee.
Died of brain edema in Hong Kong at age 32.
He is considered the greatest martial artist of the 20th century.
Developed his martial art style called Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist) which is more of an idea of being flexible and practical with learning martial arts
Interred at Lake View Cemetery, Seattle, Washington, USA.
While “The Green Hornet” (1966) TV series was in production, Bruce made several promotional appearances as Kato, but made a point to never do the standard martial art stunts like breaking boards, which he felt had nothing to do with what martial arts are about.
Bruce Lee Jun Fan Yuen Kam (Bruce Lee’s full birth name) was born in the year of the dragon (1940), at the hour of the dragon (between 6:00AM- 8:00AM).
Was an accomplished dancer and Hong Kong cha cha cha champion.
A noted brawler in Hong Kong, Lee received formal training in wing chun under legendary sifu Yip Man. He later trained in a variety of arts before creating his Jeet Kune Do style.
Weighed only 128 pounds at the time of his death.
Suffered a serious back injury while attempting a good-morning. During his recuperation, he wrote several books on the martial arts.
His students in Jeet Kune Do martial arts included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve McQueen and James Coburn.
His ancestry is German and Chinese. His father is a full-blooded Chinese, while his mother is of German-Chinese decent (her father is German; her mother is Chinese).
His development of Jeet Kune Do came partially out of an incident with his school. A rival martial artist challenged him to a duel over his decision to teach non-Chinese students. Lee accepted the challenge and won the duel, but later thought that the fight took too long because his martial art technique was too rigid and formalistic. Thus he decided to develop a better system with an emphasis on practicality and flexibility.
Was constantly challenged by movie extras and other men seeking to gain fame by beating him in a fight.
Left for Seattle in 1958 with $100. Gave cha cha cha lessons to first-class passengers to earn extra money during ship ride to US.
Was sought after for instruction by established martial artists such as Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris.
Faced discrimination from other Chinese kung fu masters when trying to learn other martial arts styles. Would usually go to the number 3 or 4 man in a certain system to learn it in exchange for teaching what he knew.
Demand for his private lessons grew so high, his hourly rate soared to $275 per hour.
His last movie, The Game of Death (1978), was his first film to be shot with sound, unlike most of his earlier films which were filmed without sound and later dubbed in by the actors. Some of the lost footage was later shown in Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey (2000) (V). You can hear his own voice speaking English and Cantonese. Had he not died, his character’s name in this movie would have been Hai Tien.
Spoke English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese.
Was able to name every single karate term and performed them with dead accuracy.
Adopted his legendary nunchaku routine in his movies from the legendary karate master Hidehiko “Hidy” Ochiai. The two met at the Los Angeles YMCA in the mid 1960s.
Earned $30,000 for his first two feature films.
Developed a trick for showing off his speed: a person held a coin and closed his hand, and as he closed it, Lee would take it and could even swap the coin for another.
His death was considered to be under ‘extraordinarily bizarre’ circumstances by many experts. Many people claimed that it was the work of ‘Oni’ (Japanese for Demons or evil spirits), while others claimed he was cursed. The theory of the ‘Curse of Bruce Lee’ carried over to the extremely bizarre death of his son, Brandon Lee, who was shot and killed during the filming of The Crow (1994) in 1993.
Before hitting it big as a movie star, he often trained with the martial arts world’s biggest stars, many of whom would latter become celebrities in their own right, such as world karate champion ‘Chuck Norris’. Despite rumors and reports to the contrary, Lee was never Norris’ instructor. They trained together, often trading techniques and ideas, but never had a student-teacher relationship.
One of his martial arts students was James Bond star George Lazenby.
In his first and only meeting with Enter the Dragon (1973) composer Lalo Schifrin, Bruce told him that he often trains to the “Mission: Impossible” (1966) theme.
Mastered a technique called “The One Inch Punch”, in which he could deliver a devastating blow yet have his fist travel a mere one inch (2.54 cm) in distance before striking an opponent.
His first major U.S. project was the role of Kato in the television series “The Green Hornet” (1966). He joked that he got this role because he was the only Oriental actor who could properly pronounce the lead character’s name: “Britt Reid.”.
Mortal Kombat character “Liu Kang” was inspired by him, complete with the characteristic animal noises.
When Elvis Presley’s and Ed Parker’s unfinished martial arts film “New Gladiators” was found in 2003, there was 20 minutes of Lee’s demonstration at a martial arts display in the mid-’60s found along with it.
Is often honored in video games. In “Mortal Kombat” games, the character Liu Kang was an obvious tribute to Lee. Then, in Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers (1993) (VG), a character named Fei Long was introduced, bearing an uncanny resemblance in both looks and fighting style to Lee. A lesser game, World Heroes (1993) (VG), also copied Lee as Kim Dragon. Lastly, the “Tekken” games did the tribute to him not once, but twice. First with Marshall Law, then with his son Forrest Law for the third installment of Tekken. Along with this, his fighting style was honored in Virtua Fighter Remix (1993) (VG) with Jacky Bryant, in Dead or Alive (1997) (VG) with Jann Lee and in the “Soul Calibur” series as Maxi.
Has a statue placed in the country Bosnia. After many years of war and religious splits, Lee’s figure is to commend his work, to successfully bridge culture gaps in the world (2004 September).
His father, Hoi-Chuen Lee (b. February 1901, died February 8, 1965) was a popular stage actor, and died 8 days after Brandon Lee was born.
Lee was trained by Yip Man from 1954-1957 & Wong Shun-Leung from 1957-1958.
Defeated British boxer Gary Elms by knockout in the third round in the 1958 Hong Kong amateur boxing championships by using Wing Chun traps and high/low-level straight punches. Before he met Elms in the finals, he knocked out three boxers in the first round. Hawkings Cheung, his fellow Wing Chun street fighter, witnessed the event.
Lee knocked out Wong Jack-Man in Oakland, CA, in a 1965 no-holds-barred challenge match. It was Lee’s last official fight. It lasted three minutes.
Lee knocked-out Chung, a Choy Li Fut fighter, in Hong Kong in a 1958 Full-Contact match. The match was refereed by Sheun-Leung Wong.
Lee knocked out Uechi in 10 seconds in a 1962 Full-Contact match in Seattle. It was refereed by Jesse Glover.
Had four siblings, two sisters and two brothers: Phoebe Lee (b. 1938), Agnes Lee, older brother and fencing champion Peter Lee, and younger brother and musician Robert Lee. Some sources claim he also had a brother James who died of Black Lung in 1972, but James Yimm Lee was in fact his training partner, and not his brother.
Son of Hoi-Chuen Lee
He was a gang leader in his teenage years. The name of his group was known as “The Tigers of Junction Street”.
UFC President Dana White considers Bruce Lee as “the father of Mixed Martial Arts”.
Alongside Muhammad Ali, Lee is cited as a major influence by many K-1 and MMA champions: Bas Rutten, Jose “Pele’ Landi-Jons, Wanderlei Silva, ‘Emilianenko Fedor’, Norifumi “Kid’ Yamamoto, Rob Kaman, Ramon Dekkers, Frank Shamrock, Murilo Rua, Mauricio Rua, ‘Jerome Le Banner’, ‘Carlos Newton’, Remy Bonjasky, Jeremy Horn, David Loiseau and Tito Ortiz, among others.
To mark the occasion of what would have been Lee’s 65th birthday (27 November 2005), a bronze statue of a topless Bruce adopting a martial arts stance was unveiled in Hong Kong, effectively kicking off a week-long Bruce Lee festival.
In the popular Nintendo game series, Pokémon, the fighting type monster Hitmonlee is based on Lee.
In an interview he gave a few years before his death, he revealed that he was an atheist.
According to Hong Kong stuntman Phillip Ko, Lee was challenged by a tiger/crane kung fu stylist, an extra on Enter the Dragon (1973), who claimed Lee was a phony. Lee, who was furious at the claim, accepted the challenge to prove that his martial arts were indeed the real deal. The fight, which took place on the film set, only lasted 30 seconds, with Bruce pummeling his challenger with a series of straight punches to the face, low-line kicks to his shins/knees/thighs and finally ended with the guy being smashed to the wall with his hair pulled and his arms trapped by Bruce. After Lee forced the kung fu stylist to submit, he showed some class by telling him to go back to work instead of firing him. This fight was witnessed by the film’s producer, Fred Weintraub, and Robert Wall.
There is a character in the anime and manga Shaman King that is very heavily based on him. Also a character inspired by a Lee like character appeared in the Yugioh manga.
Chosen by Goldsea Asian American Daily as one of the “100 Most Inspiring Asian Americans of All Time”. (ranked #2).
Once performed a kick so fast it had be slowed down by editors for fear it would look like it was sped up.
Was capable of doing push ups with a 250 pound man on his back and could do push-ups with only one finger.
Was only 160 pounds at his heaviest.
Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.
Simplicity is the last step of art.
A teacher is never a giver of truth – he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself. A good teacher is merely a catalyst.
When an opportunity in a fight presents itself, “I” don’t hit, “it” hits all by itself.
Empty your mind. Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.
To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person. If you want to understand the truth in martial arts, to see any opponent clearly, you must throw away the notion of styles or schools, prejudices, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Then, your mind will cease all conflict and come to rest. In this silence, you will see totally and freshly.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.
Don’t think, feel! It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.
A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.
I don’t believe in different ways of fighting now. I mean, unless human beings have 3 arms and 3 legs, then we will have a different way of fighting. But basically we all have two arms and two legs so that is why I believe there should be only one way of fighting and that is no way.
If you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread over into your work, into your mortality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.
There’s no challenge in breaking a board. Boards don’t hit back.
Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.
Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.
Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
Martial art is ultimately an athletic expression of the dynamic human body. More important yet, is the person who is expressing his own soul.
I have always been a martial artist by choice, an actor by profession, but above all, am actualising myself to be an artist of life.
A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.
The martial arts are ultimately self-knowledge. A punch or a kick is not to knock the hell out of the guy in front, but to knock the hell out of your ego, your fear, or your hang-ups.
First of all, the word superstar really turns me off — and I’ll tell you why. The word “star” man, it’s an illusion. it’s something what the public calls you. You should look upon oneself as an actor, man. I mean you would be very pleased if somebody said (punches his fist into his open hand) “man, you are a super actor!” it is much better than, you know, superstar.
I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.
You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being. Because, I mean I don’t want to sound like ask Confucius, sayyyyyy–(joking) but under the sky, under the heaven, man, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.
First of all, the word superstar really turns me off–and I’ll tell you why. The word “star” man, it’s an illusion. it’s something what the public calls you. You should look upon oneself as an actor, man. I mean you would be very pleased if somebody said (punches his fist into his open hand) “man, you are a super actor!” it is much better than, you know, superstar.
Ever since The Big Boss there seems to be a wave, a hot wave in fact, of finding “another Bruce Lee” among all types of people, particularly martial artists. Ranging from karate men, hapkido men, judo men, etcetera, etcetera. Forgetting about whether or not they possess the ability to act, just so long as they can halfway decent kick or punch and know a few tricks or gimmicks, the producers will make them a “star.” Now, let’s stop about here. Is it that simple to become a star? Well, I can assure you it’s not that simple. Also, I can tell you that as more (of) Bruce Lee’s films are shown, the audience will soon realize-not only in acting ability but in physical skill as well-they will see the difference. Of course, “It is only moviemaking,” people will say, but certainly the audiences are not so insensitive as to not be able to see and judge for themselves.