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 Yip 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,
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. (Calvin McMillin 2003)