Today, we examine the life of Bruce Lee as the next installment in our Thursday Timeless series. We are looking back a the lives of beautiful iconic celebrity hunks whose youthful image lingers although they've passed on.
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Bruce Lee was only 31 when he died suddenly. It’s difficult to reconcile the thought of such a healthy young man dying so inexplicably. Apparently, there are many fans who believe that Bruce Lee is still alive somewhere. Hanging out with Elvis, perhaps?
Bruce Lee the man was much more than his film roles.
Lee Jun Fan, nicknamed “Bruce” by the attending physician at his birth, was born on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco. His father, a Hong Kong opera singer, was on tour in the United States. His parents returned to Hong Kong when Bruce was a few months old, where Bruce led a relatively privileged childhood.
He began his acting career as an infant in San Francisco, when he appeared briefly as an extra in the movie Golden Gate Girl. By the age of six, back in Hong Kong, he had a costarring role in My Son, Ah Cheung and ultimately appeared in twenty pictures as a child actor, usually in roles such as street urchins, juvenile delinquents, and rebels that occasionally made use of his fighting skills.
His privileged background and acting career, however, did not prevent him from running the streets with the rest of the Hong Kong youth, even forming his own gang (the Tigers). He began studying wing chung, a form of kung fu, at the age of fifteen and began to practice on the streets of Hong Kong, until his parents suggested that he claim his citizenship birthright and continue his education in the United States.
Bruce left Hong Kong at the age of 18, came to the United States and made his way to Seattle, Washington where he worked in the restaurant of a family friend. He soon enrolled in the University of Washington where he pursued a degree in philosophy. Bruce began to teach kung fu in Seattle and soon opened his first school, the Jun Fan Kung Fu Institute. Two more schools followed in Oakland and Los Angeles.
In 1964, Bruce married Linda Emery and they soon had two children, Brandon, born in 1965 and Shannon, born in 1969.
In 1966, Bruce was discovered while doing a Kung Fu exhibition at the Long Beach Internationals, he was offered the chance to audition for a role as Kato in the tv series The Green Hornet. Kato was the Hornet’s sidekick and chauffeur.
Although the series was largely a dud and lasted only one season, Lee himself was a success, especially in Hong Kong, where The Green Hornet was known as The Kato Show. Unfortunately, his popularity as Kato did not translate to more roles for Lee, and he resumed teaching, occasionally finding work choreographing fight scenes for movies and television shows. For a while, he worked with Warner Brothers and the ABC Network to develop a martial arts western drama for television, in which he expected to star as a Shaolin monk who wanders about the American West using his knowledge of kung fu in various escapades. When the show was produced in 1972, renamed Kung Fu, the role intended for Lee went to the very-white David Carradine.
During this time, Bruce was also developing his own martial art, which he ultimately named Jeet Kune Do (translated: the way of the intercepting fist).
Bruce's art was steeped in a philosophical foundation and did not follow long held martial traditions. Instead it had at its core the ideas of simplicity, directness and personal freedom.
Unable to find the type of work he longed to do in America, Lee was eventually contracted by a studio called Golden Harvest in Hong Kong. Under producer Raymond Chow, Lee made two Hong Kong kung fu movies: The Big Boss and Fist of Fury. Lee quickly became a national hero in Hong Kong, becoming so wildly popular that he could not go anywhere without being recognized and mobbed. Hoping to make higher quality films, Lee teamed up with Chow to start their own company, Concord Productions, for which they made Way of the Dragon (which Lee also wrote, directed, and produced) and began filming a work, to be titled Game of Death.
While filming Game of Death, Lee got the offer he’d been waiting for: the lead in a film to be produced by Warner Brothers. At this time in Hollywood’s history (and indeed, perhaps even today) for an Asian man to be cast as lead in a major motion picture, he would have to have been absolutely extraordinary. Bruce Lee was that extraordinary man: by the time Warner Brothers contracted Lee for Enter the Dragon, there are claims that:
Bruce Lee was possibly the most highly paid actor in the world.
While the characters Lee portrayed may not have given Hollywood a sexual hero, it is impossible to deny the appeal of the man himself. He was exceptionally handsome and terribly confident. He had a habit of removing his shirt so others could admire him and would encourage women to feel his muscles. No words suffice to describe the gravity possessed by Lee in recordings of his few surviving interviews. In his biography on Lee, Bruce Thomas records Joe Lewis remembering that “Bruce had a charm that didn’t come across on the screen. I guess you could use the word ‘magic’…there’s a spark of enthusiasm in everyone’s mind. Bruce used to ignite that spark.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger was also influenced by Bruce, and said of his body, "Bruce Lee had a very — I mean a very defined physique. He probably had one of the lowest body fat counts of any athlete. And I think that's why he looked so believable."
A doctor who knew Lee once claimed that he was "Muscled as a squirrel, and spirited as a horse" and fitter than anyone he had ever seen.
Lee was known to have collected over 140 books in his lifetime on bodybuilding, weight training, physiology and kinesiology. In order to better train specific muscle groups, he also created several original designs of his own training equipment and had a friend build them to his specifications.
Not really. Although there's a scene in this bad James Garner Marlowe movie where he's called all sorts of names before sadly succumbing to a misstep. Take a look:
Enter the Dragon was due to premier at Hollywood’s Chinese theater in August of 1973. Unfortunately, Bruce would not live to see the opening of his film.
On July 20, 1973, Bruce had a minor headache. He was offered a prescription painkiller called Equagesic. After taking the pill, he went to lie down and lapsed into a coma. He was unable to be revived. Extensive forensic pathology was done to determine the cause of his death, which was not immediately apparent. A nine-day coroner’s inquest was held with testimony given by renowned pathologists flown in from around the world. The determination was that Bruce had a hypersensitive reaction to an ingredient in the pain medication that caused a swelling of the fluid on the brain, resulting in a coma and death.
The world lost a brilliant star and an evolved human being that day. His spirit remains an inspiration to untold numbers of people around the world.
Bruce Lee is quoted as saying he never believed in God. His spirituality, however, cannot be denied. Follow this link to read about his life philosophy and famous metaphor for resilience.