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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

On this day in history…

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was born — November 27th, 1940 to be precise. In case you need a refresher on just who this guy is and why he’s so damn important, I’ve included my moldy old bio write-up for below, but you can check out Time magazine’s much more recent photo gallery retrospective here.

Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, the Year of the Dragon. When he was three months old, Lee and his family returned to Hong Kong where he spent the majority of his teenaged years. During that time, Lee spent his days doing a variety of activities, from studying Wing Chun under the guidance of Ip Man to winning the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship in 1958.

When he grew older, Lee attended the University of Washington and majored in philosophy. There he met Linda Emery, whom he married on August 17, 1964. Less than a year later, she bore him a son, Brandon. After opening a martial arts school in Seattle, Lee dropped out of college to open a second school in Oakland and later a third in Los Angeles.

Lee’s big break came when producer William Dozier saw footage of Lee giving a kung fu demonstration at the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championship. Immediately, Lee was cast in a Charlie Chan update entitled “Number One Son,” but that project was soon abandoned in favor of The Green Hornet, a superhero television show that capitalized on the success of Dozier’s other pet project, the Adam West led Batman. Though Lee portrayed the Green Hornet’s houseboy Kato on the show, the young actor worked with producers to make his character more of an active partner and less of a stereotypical role. The series ran for 26 episodes.

After the cancellation of The Green Hornet, Lee bounced around in a variety of smaller television and film roles, and even served as fight choreographer for Dean Martin’s The Wrecking Crew and Marlowe (in which he also appeared). Lee’s primary income came from private martial arts lessons. His celebrity clientele included Steve McQueen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Coburn, and Roman Polanski, among others. On April 19, 1969, his wife gave birth to a daughter, Shannon.

Eventually Lee returned to Hong Kong and found that The Green Hornet, informally retitled “The Kato Show” for the Chinese audience, had garnered Lee quite a following. The head honcho of HK film studio Golden Harvest cast the future superstar in the Lo Wei-directed The Big Boss, a film that proved to be extremely popular with the masses. Lee’s second film for Golden Harvest, Fist of Fury, broke box office records across Asia, cementing the young star’s reputation as a box office draw. From there, Lee went on to write, direct, and co-produce Way of the Dragon, which featured Lee’s famous brawl with Chuck Norris in the Roman Coliseum.

Lee’s shot at superstardom came as he began work on The Game of Death, a pet project that he would direct with Kareen Abdul-Jabbar as the film’s primary villain. However, Lee soon put that project on hold when Warner Brothers came calling for him to star in a joint venture with Golden Harvest, titled Enter the Dragon. This film, regarded by many as the greatest marital arts film of all time, was a huge success in America, sparking a wave of interest in kung fu and Eastern culture. Sadly, Lee would not live to enjoy the film’s cross-cultural success; he died at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973, a month prior to the film’s US premiere. His remains are buried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.

Though the official cause of Lee’s death was listed as cerebral edema caused by an allergic reaction to the painkiller Equagesic, the mystery surrounding his passing has endured to this day with numerous conspiracy theories abounding. To compound matters, Lee’s son Brandon was tragically killed on the set of The Crow, a film that could have made him a star had he lived. This bizarre accident only further added credence to stories of a so-called “Curse of the Dragon.” Whatever the truth, Lee’s obvious charisma coupled with his untimely death has vaulted his life story to the stuff of myth and legend, spawning a legion of devotees and countless imitators. So in that sense, the Dragon will never die.

One Response to “On this day in history…”

  1. Calvin McMillin Says:

    One of those photos in the TIME retrospective (Lee doing the splits) looks suspiciously like Bruce Li in profile. Hmmmm…

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