Bruce Lee (Chinese: 李小龍; born Lee Jun-fan, Chinese: 李振藩; November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) was a Hong Kong American martial artist, Hong Kong action film actor, martial arts instructor, philosopher, filmmaker, and the founder of Jeet Kune Do. Lee was the son of Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-Chuen. He is widely considered by commentators, critics, media and other martial artists to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time, and a pop culture icon of the 20th century. He is often credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films.
Lee was born in Chinatown, San Francisco on November 27, 1940 to parents from Hong Kong and was raised in Kowloon with his family until his late teens. He was introduced to the film industry by his father and appeared in several films as a child actor. Lee moved to the United States at the age of 18 to receive his higher education, at the University of Washington, at Seattle and it was during this time that he began teaching martial arts. His Hong Kong and Hollywood-produced films elevated the traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level of popularity and acclaim, sparking a surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West in the 1970s. The direction and tone of his films changed and influenced martial arts and martial arts films in the United States, Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
He is noted for his roles in five feature-length films: Lo Wei’s The Big Boss (1971) and Fist of Fury (1972); Golden Harvest’s Way of the Dragon (1972), directed and written by Lee; Golden Harvest and Warner Brothers’ Enter the Dragon (1973) and The Game of Death (1978), both directed by Robert Clouse. Lee became an iconic figure known throughout the world, particularly among the Chinese, as he portrayed Chinese nationalism in his films. He trained in the art of Wing Chun and later combined his other influences from various sources, in the spirit of his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist). Lee held dual nationality of Hong Kong and the United States. He died in Kowloon Tong on July 20, 1973 at the age of 32.
Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940, at the Chinese Hospital, in San Francisco’s Chinatown. According to the Chinese zodiac, Lee was born in both the hour and the year of the Dragon, which according to tradition is a strong and fortuitous omen.
Bruce’s father, Lee Hoi-chuen, (李海泉) was Han Chinese, and his mother, Grace Ho (何愛瑜), was half-Chinese and half-Caucasian. Specifically, Grace Ho was purportedly a half-German Catholic. Grace Ho was the daughter of Ho Kom-tong (Ho Gumtong, 何甘棠) and the niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, both notable Hong Kong businessmen and philanthropists. Bruce was the fourth child of five children: Phoebe Lee (李秋源), Agnes Lee (李秋鳳), Peter Lee (李忠琛), and Robert Lee (李振輝). Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old.
Lee’s Cantonese birth name was Lee Jun-fan (李振藩). The name homophonically means “return again”, and was given to Lee by his mother, who felt he would return to the United States once he came of age. Because of his mother’s superstitious nature, she had originally named him Sai-fon (細鳳), which is a feminine name meaning “small phoenix”. The English name “Bruce” is thought to have been given by the hospital attending physician, Dr. Mary Glover.
Lee had three other Chinese names: Li Yuanxin (李源鑫), a family/clan name; Li Yuanjian (李元鑒), which he used as a student name while he was attending La Salle College, and his Chinese screen name Li Xiaolong (李小龍; Xiaolong means “little dragon”). Lee’s given name Jun-fan was originally written in Chinese as 震藩, however, the Jun (震) Chinese character was identical to part of his grandfather’s name, Lee Jun-biu (李震彪). Hence, the Chinese character for Jun in Lee’s name was changed to the homonym 振 instead, to avoid naming taboo in Chinese tradition.
Lee’s father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was one of the leading Cantonese opera and film actors at the time, and was embarking on a year-long opera tour with his family on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. Lee Hoi-chuen had been touring the United States for many years and performing at numerous Chinese communities there.
Although many of his peers decided to stay in the United States, Lee Hoi-chuen returned to Hong Kong after Bruce’s birth. Within months, Hong Kong was invaded and the Lees lived for three years and eight months under Japanese occupation. After the war ended, Lee Hoi-chuen resumed his acting career and became a more popular actor during Hong Kong’s rebuilding years.
Lee’s mother, Grace Ho, was from one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong, the Ho-tungs. She was the niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, the Eurasian patriarch of the clan. As such, the young Bruce Lee grew up in an affluent and privileged environment. Despite the advantage of his family’s status, the neighborhood in which Lee grew up became overcrowded, dangerous, and full of gang rivalries due to an influx of refugees fleeing communist China for Hong Kong, at that time a British Crown colony.
After Lee was involved in several street fights, his parents decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts. Lee’s first introduction to martial arts was through his father, from whom he learned the fundamentals of Wu-style t’ai chi ch’uan.
At the age of 18, Lee returned to the United States with $100 in his pocket. After living in San Francisco for several months, he moved to Seattle in 1959, to continue his high school education, where he also worked for Ruby Chow as a live-in waiter at her restaurant.
Chow’s husband was a co-worker and friend of Lee’s father. Lee’s elder brother Peter Lee (李忠琛) would also join him in Seattle for a short stay before moving on to Minnesota to attend college. In December 1960, Lee completed his high school education and received his diploma from Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College, located on Capitol Hill in Seattle).
In March 1961, Lee enrolled at the University of Washington, majoring in drama according to a 1999 article in the university’s alumni magazine, not in philosophy as stated by Lee himself and many others. Lee also studied philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects. It was at the University of Washington that he met his future wife Linda Emery, a fellow student studying to become a teacher, whom he married in August 1964.
Lee had two children with Linda Emery, Brandon Lee (1965–93) and Shannon Lee (born 1969).
Bruce Lee was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
In April 2013, he was posthumously awarded the prestigious Founders Award at The Asian Awards.
A Bruce Lee statue was unveiled in Los Angeles’ Chinatown on June 15, 2013. It stands at 7-foot (210 cm) tall and was made in Guangzhou, China.
In April 2014, it was announced that Lee would be a featured character in the video game EA Sports UFC, and will be playable in multiple weight classes.
Bruce Lee was voted as the Greatest Movie Fighter Ever in 2014 by the Houston Boxing Hall Of Fame. The HBHOF is a combat sports voting body composed exclusively of current and former fighters and Martial Artists.
On May 10, 1973, Lee collapsed during an ADR session for Enter the Dragon at Golden Harvest in Hong Kong. Suffering from seizures and headaches, he was immediately rushed to Hong Kong Baptist Hospital where doctors diagnosed cerebral edema. They were able to reduce the swelling through the administration of mannitol. The headache and cerebral edema that occurred in his first collapse were later repeated on the day of his death.
On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong, to have dinner with James Bond star George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Lee’s wife Linda, Lee met producer Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. at home to discuss the making of the film Game of Death. They worked until 4 p.m. and then drove together to the home of Lee’s colleague Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress. The three went over the script at Ting’s home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting.
Later Lee complained of a headache, and Ting gave him an analgesic (painkiller), Equagesic, which contained both aspirin and the tranquilizer meprobamate. Around 7:30 p.m., he went to lie down for a nap. When Lee did not turn up for dinner, producer Raymond Chow came to the apartment, but was unable to wake Lee up. A doctor was summoned, who spent ten minutes attempting to revive Lee before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. By the time the ambulance reached the hospital he was dead. He was 32 years old.
There was no visible external injury; however, according to autopsy reports, Lee’s brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams (a 13% increase). The autopsy found Equagesic in his system. On October 15, 2005, Chow stated in an interview that Lee died from an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer meprobamate, the main ingredient in Equagesic, which Chow described as an ingredient commonly used in painkillers. When the doctors announced Lee’s death officially, it was ruled a “death by misadventure”.
Lee’s wife Linda returned to her hometown of Seattle, and had him buried at lot 276 of Lakeview Cemetery. Pallbearers at his funeral on July 31, 1973 included Taky Kimura, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris, George Lazenby, Dan Inosanto, Peter Chin, and Lee’s brother Robert.
Controversy surrounding Lee’s death
Around the time of Lee’s death, numerous rumors appeared in the media. Lee’s iconic status and untimely demise fed many wild rumors and theories. These included murder involving the Triads and a supposed curse on him and his family.
Donald Teare, a forensic scientist recommended by Scotland Yard who had overseen over 1,000 autopsies, was assigned to the Lee case. His conclusion was “death by misadventure” caused by an acute cerebral edema due to a reaction to compounds present in the combination medication Equagesic.
Dr. Donald Langford, a Baptist missionary and Lee’s doctor in Hong Kong, has said, “Nobody dies from one tablet of Equagesic. No analgesic killed Bruce.”He added: “People weren’t about to step up and say Bruce Lee had died from eating cannabis which was found in his stomach, and which he had consumed regularly for some time due to the stress of his fame or some related product. At the beginning of the inquest proceedings, Dr. Wu and a couple of other doctors and I were pulled to the side and asked to play down the role of cannabis in Bruce’s death.”
The preliminary opinion of Dr. Peter Wu, the neurosurgeon who treated Lee during his first seizure in May 1973, was that the cause of death should have been attributed to either a reaction to cannabis or Equagesic. He has stated that “We removed quite a lot of hashish from his stomach. In Nepal there have been all kinds of neurological problems associated with hashish, especially cerebral edema.”However, Wu officially backed off from his position, officially stating that:
Professor Teare was a forensic scientist recommended by Scotland Yard; he was brought in as an expert on c