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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 224

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This is the grave of Bruce and Brandon Lee.

Bruce Lee was born in 1940 in San Francisco. His actual name was Lee Jun-Fan, but from birth, he was known as Bruce. His father was a well-known Chinese opera actor and his mother was from a wealthy Hong Kong family. When Bruce was three months old, they returned to Hong Kong. That was something of an odd choice given that World War II was on. The family lived for nearly four years under Japanese occupation and then his father went back to his acting success after the war. Despite their relative prosperity, the neighborhood they lived in was tough and young Bruce got into a lot of fights. He didn’t fare too well. So his parents decided to train him in martial arts. That was probably a good choice.

I claim absolutely no knowledge in martial arts. None. So I am not even going to try to explain his skills. Commenters can do this to their heart’s content. But he got really good at them. In 1958, he returned to the United States to live with his older sister. He lived in San Francisco for a time but then moved to Seattle and got a job in a restaurant. In 1961, he started courses at the University of Washington. Lee met his wife Linda Emery there and they married in 1964. While he later stated he majored in philosophy, this was a marketing ploy. He was a drama major. He also started teaching martial arts in Seattle. This is how he supported himself between 1959 and 1964. Despite his father’s career, he didn’t seem destined to follow him to the stage or movies. He became famous in the martial arts community on the west coast, which wasn’t so big then. But as he became famous, producers started reaching out to him. That led to his supporting role on The Green Hornet for its one season in 1966-67. He started guest-starring in a bunch of TV shows. He also started choreographing fight scenes for movies. But he had trouble really becoming the established star he now wanted to be.

On the advice of the producer Fred Weintraub, Lee went to Hong Kong to make a martial arts film. Weintraub believed Hollywood producers needed to see a greater body of work before committing to this unusual talent. It was there he became a worldwide star, first with The Big Boss and then of course, Fists of Fury. Then there was Way of the Dragon, with its epic closing fight scene in The Colosseum in Rome. He started filming Game of Death, which was going to include a fight scene with his student Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but then he got the big call from Hollywood he wanted. That was for Enter the Dragon. Lee was now one of the biggest starts in the world. He had any opportunity he wanted.

And then he got sick. In May 1973, he had horrible headaches and was diagnosed with a cerebral edema, which is fluid on the brain. He was put on medicine. On June 20, he was to meet with George Lazenby on making a film together. He again wasn’t feeling well. He took his medicine, went to sleep, and never woke up. He was 32 years old. No one really knows quite what happened in the end. Here are some highlights of Bruce Lee’s career.

His son Brandon followed in his father’s footsteps and briefly became a big action star of his own. He also went into the martial arts and starting in 1986, was cast in a number of low-budget action films. Not much really came of his career until 1991, when he was cast as Dolph Lundgren’s partner in Showdown in Little Tokyo. That led Fox to sign him to a good deal. He starred in Rapid Fire in 1992 and then he was cast in The Crow, based on the comic book. As the lead, he was likely to make a big splash. But then he died in a filming accident with what was a fake bullet, but one that due to a gun malfunction was fired with enough force to drive it into his gut. Another sad tale. Here’s a scene of Brandon’s as well.

Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried in Lake View Cemetery, Seattle, Washington.

If you would like to see this series visit more Asian-American film legends, you can help cover the necessary expenses here. I would love to profile Sessue Hayakawa or Anna May Wong. Previous posts are archived here.

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