Bruce Lee, born in 1940 in San Francisco but raised in Hong Kong, was a Chinese American actor, martial artist, filmmaker, and instructor. Lee is considered one of the most influential martial artists of all time and remains one of the most popular cultural icons of the twentieth century. Lee starred in many films along with celebrities such as Chuck Norris. He also played roles in several television shows including The Green Hornet and Batman. Lee was also a highly skilled martial artist and athlete and did much to popularize the martial art of Kung Fu. Plus, he changed the way that American films presented Asians. Bruce Lee died tragically at age of thirty-two but his legacy still remains with us today.
Bruce Lee, named Lee Jun-fan, was born on November 27, 1940 to Lee Hoi-Chuen, a Cantonese opera and film star in Hong Kong, and his mother, Grace Ho. Bruce was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but only a few months after he was born, the family moved back to Hong Kong. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong and occupied it. Once World War II was over, Lee’s father resumed his acting career. His mother was also from one of the most powerful and wealthiest families in Hong Kong. Bruce was the fourth child in the family of five children.
After Bruce got into several fights in his neighborhood as a young man, his parents decided that he would benefit from martial arts training. Bruce studied Wing Chun for several years, starting at the age of thirteen. He studied under Wing Chun master Yip Man. However, Bruce continued to struggle with his life in Hong Kong. He continued to get in fights and organized crime became a problem in his neighborhood. Also, he was not doing well academically. His family finally decided to send him to the United States in 1959 to stay with his sister in San Francisco and complete his education.
Bruce moved to San Francisco at the age of eighteen but did not stay long. He soon moved to Seattle where he worked as a waiter at the restaurant of Ruby Chow. After completing high school, Lee attended the University of Washington where he met his future wife Linda Emery. The two married in 1964 and had two children, Brandon and Shannon. Upon his relocation to the U.S., Bruce also began to teach martial arts. He developed his own style of Wing Chun called Jun Fan Gung Fu, which means Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu. Lee opened his first martial arts school in Seattle where several of his friends also taught Kung Fu. His style incorporated several different elements.
Acting had always been a part of Bruce Lee’s life. He appeared in several films as a young child with his first being Golden Gate Girl. By the time he reached the age of eighteen, he had already starred in twenty films. After his move to the United States, Lee put his acting career on hold to focus on martial arts. However, after a martial arts exhibition in 1964, he was invited to audition for a part for the show Number One Gun. The show fell through, but Lee was eventually offered the part of Kato in the television series The Green Hornet. Even though the show only lasted one season, he also appeared as Kato in the TV series Batman and appeared as a guest in the shows Ironside, Blondie, and Here Comes the Brides.
Bruce continued to be involved in movies and television, especially as a choreographer for fight scenes. He choreographed scenes for the movie The Wrecking Crew, which starred Dean Martin and Chuck Norris in his first role, and the film A Walk in the Spring Rain, which starred Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. Bruce also appeared in the television series Longstreet, which was written by one his martial arts students. He played a martial arts instructor and included several aspects of his philosophy on martial arts. Lee went on to return to Hong Kong where he was hailed as a superstar and continued to make several films. He starred in The Big Boss and Fists of Fury, two movies which were tremendous successes in Asia and broke box office records.
In his third film, Way of the Dragon, Lee not only starred but wrote, directed, and choreographed the fight scenes. The climatic fight scene in the movie takes place between him and Chuck Norris, arguably one of the best fights in the history of martial arts films. He then began work on his fourth film called Game of Death. However, the project was scrapped, and Lee was offered the starring role in the movie Enter the Dragon from Warner Brothers. Just days before the movie was released, however, Lee died. The movie still came out in 1973 and became of the year’s highest grossing films. Not only did it turn Lee into a Kung Fu legend but it spawned further televisions shows and even songs about Kung Fu.
Bruce Lee died at the age of thirty-two on July 20, 1973 in Hong Kong. Only a few months before in May, Lee had been rushed to the hospital where he had been diagnosed with cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain. His autopsy found that his brain was enlarged but his cause of death was ruled to be an allergic reaction to a muscle relaxant. The questionable circumstances only fueled other theories about his death, but the truth is that his life was tragically cut short. Besides his legend as a martial artist and film star, Bruce Lee is also known for his fight record, his unbelievable physical feats, his poetry, and his philosophy on martial arts.