How Did Bruce Lee Die? (Hint: It May Have Been Related to His Sweat Glands)

How Did Bruce Lee Die? (Hint: It May Have Been Related to His Sweat Glands)


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Of all the international pop-culture icons who met an untimely death—like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson—Bruce Lee is perhaps the only one for whom there is no official consensus as to the cause. For 45 years, fans, experts and forensic pathologists have offered different theories, ranging from the supernatural (killed by an ancient curse or bad feng shui) to the ridiculous (poisoned by Japanese ninjas). Conspiracy theorists blamed his luckless mistress, painting her as a sinister black widow.

Now, the first authoritative biography of the crossover martial-arts movie star, Bruce Lee: A Life, reveals the true timeline of his last day and a compelling new explanation for his demise.

A headache, a nap, then panic

His final day on earth started well. On the morning of July 20, 1973 in Hong Kong, the 32-year-old box-office phenom met with Australian actor George Lazenby, who played James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), to offer him a part in his upcoming film Game of Death. Lee, a child actor who went on to international fame for hits like Fist of Fury and the TV show “Green Hornet”—and was arguably responsible for popularizing the martial-arts film genre in the West—had already begun producing movies himself.

After meeting with Lazenby, Lee decided to visit the apartment of his mistress, Betty Ting Pei, for a “nooner.” Around 6 p.m., Raymond Chow, Lee’s business partner, arrived. The three of them were scheduled to meet Lazenby for a celebratory dinner, but before they left, Lee complained of a headache. Betty gave him one of her prescription pain medications, which contained aspirin. Lee told Chow to go on without them. He went to lie down on Betty’s bed—and never got back up again.

When Betty couldn’t wake Lee two hours later, she called Chow at the restaurant in a panic. He raced over to her apartment, but it was too late: The most famous man in Hong Kong was already dead. To avoid a scandal, Chow called an ambulance and had Lee transported to a nearby hospital, where the doctors continued to work on his lifeless body before declaring his time of death as 11:30 p.m. Chow then told the media that Lee had collapsed at home with his wife, Linda.

After the tabloid feeding frenzy came the fake bombs

But when an intrepid reporter uncovered the truth three days later, the tabloids went wild. The China Star ran a double-entendre headline: “Betty Ting Pei’s Fragrant Chamber Killed the Dragon.” Andre Morgan, who worked with Lee and Chow, says, “The stories were rampant: stories about him dying from an overdose, dying from screwing too much, dying with an erection, dying from being hacked to death by young thugs, poisoned by his servant. There was one story that he wasn’t really dead.”

This fevered speculation had real-world consequences and quickly took a turn for the truly frightening. Students in Kuala Lumpur demonstrated, carrying placards that read: “Betty Killed Bruce.” Rumors began spreading in Hong Kong that a hit had been taken out on her life. In early August, a bomb threat was called in to the police, who discovered in a public square a suspicious brown paper package covered in Chinese writing: “Betty Ting knows the cause of Bruce Lee’s death.” The bomb turned out to be a hoax, filled only with rubbish, but over the next few weeks three more fake bombs were planted across the city with such messages as “Revenge for Bruce Lee.”

The government’s inquest couldn’t solve the mystery

The British colonial government could safely ignore a celebrity scandal, but bomb threats were another matter. To restore confidence and calm, officials ordered a full-scale inquest into Bruce Lee’s death. Problem was, none of the experts could agree on why Lee died. The autopsy had revealed the medical reason—cerebral edema (swelling of the brain)—but the coroner had no idea what had caused it. Two of Bruce’s doctors blamed the hash he had consumed that afternoon, but the idea was quickly dismissed since it is scientifically impossible for cannabis to cause a cerebral edema. With the investigation at a standstill, the government flew in an expert from London who offered a novel hypothesis: severe allergic reaction to aspirin, or anaphylactic shock.

Without any better options, the government accepted this conclusion and tried to move on.

Most of Lee’s fans did not. Lee was a hardcore martial artist who had taken aspirin most of his adult life without any side effects. Moreover, anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, is almost always accompanied by other symptoms—an enflamed trachea, neck, tongue and lips, as well as hives and red itchy skin in and around the mouth. In fatal cases, the swelling of the throat blocks the airway resulting in asphyxia and cerebral edema. The autopsy revealed no symptoms of anaphylaxis. It couldn’t have been an aspirin allergy that killed Bruce.

A previous incident, and a possible answer

The experts were so focused on what had happened on July 20 that they failed to adequately consider earlier evidence. Several months before his death, Lee had an operation to remove the sweat glands from his armpits, because he thought dank pits looked bad on-screen. This reduced his body’s ability to dissipate heat. Ten weeks before his death on May 10, Lee walked into a tiny dubbing room to re-record dialogue for Enter the Dragon. The engineers turned off the air conditioner to avoid having its noise ruin the soundtrack. After about 30 minutes in this sauna-like room, Lee fainted and started convulsing. He was rushed to the hospital and nearly died from a cerebral edema. The doctors diagnosed and treated it in the nick of time.

None of them realized his collapse was most likely due to heat stroke, one of the most common killers of young athletic men in the summer months. In the United States alone, an average of three high school and college football players die every year of heat stroke. A common finding in the autopsy of heat-stroke victims is cerebral edema. “A person who has suffered one heat stroke is at increased risk for another,” says Dr. Lisa Leon, an expert in hyperthermia at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. “Patients experience multi-organ dysfunction during the hours, days and weeks of recovery, which increases the risk of long-term disability and death.”

According to records at the Hong Kong observatory, July 20, 1973, was the hottest day of the month that year in tropical Hong Kong. The oppressive heat was weighing heavily on Lee and Chow. “Bruce wasn’t feeling very well,” Chow told me, revealing details never previously reported. “I wasn’t feeling very well either. I think we had some water, and then he was acting.” In Bruce’s bubbling enthusiasm over Game of Death and Lazenby’s potential participation in it, he jumped up and began performing scene after scene. “He was always very active,” Chow told me. “In telling the story, he acted out the whole thing. So, that probably made him feel a little tired and thirsty. After a few sips he seemed to be a little dizzy.”

At this point he complained of a headache, a common symptom of hyperthermia, took the pain medication Betty offered him and went to lie down. Unlike on May 10, no one suspected anything was wrong and he died before anyone could get him to a hospital to treat him for the cerebral edema—which is retrospect seems clearly to have been caused by heat stroke.


Bruce Lee’s Marijuana Use, New Theory on His Passing Revealed in New Biography

A new biography released by publisher Simon & Schuster titled “Bruce Lee: A Life” written by Matthew Polly is revealing some new and lesser known details about the iconic martial arts and Hollywood legend 45 years after his p‌assing.

The biography covers the background of Lee’s parents, his Eurasian mother who came from a powerful Hong Kong family and a father who was an actor, as well as his troubled youth and the beginning of his Wing Chun training.

The book also dives into the controversial details surrounding his passing, including his use of m‌arijuana and his alleged affair with the actress he was with when he passed, Betty Ting Pei.

During my interview with Guru Dan Inosanto, he revealed that Bruce Lee was not only a master in the ring but also in the car: “With me, he was a backseat driver. When I’d drive, Bruce’d go, ‘No, no, no, you should have changed lanes before. Your timing is bad.'” pic.twitter.com/n8ZPdCNMbO

— Matthew Polly (@MatthewEPolly) May 21, 2018

Polly spent a decade writing the book and interviewed more than 100 family members, friends, and business associates of Lee.

From our family to yours, Happy Mother’s Day!

A post shared by Bruce Lee (@brucelee) on May 13, 2018 at 9:18am PDT

Polly told AsAmNews of Lee’s struggles with discrimination as well as speculated what Lee’s life would have been like had he lived:

“The discrimination he faced was incredible. No one, not even his closest friends like Steve McQueen or James Coburn, believed hecould become a star in Hollywood. One of his friends, Stirling Silliphant, told him, ‘You are Oriental in a White man’s world. It is not going to happen.’ And then Bruce proved them all wrong. Bruce had incredible determination and will power. He never gave up, and he worked harder than anyone else. That’s why he succeeded.

“If he had lived, I think his career would have followed the path of Clint Eastwood. Bruce wanted to be a bigger star than Steve McQueen, but he modeled his career on Clint Eastwood’s. Like Clint, I think Bruce would have continued acting in movies in different genres (not just kung fu) for another decade or two. But as he got older, I think he would have moved behind the camera as a director and producer. For Bruce, being in control of his art was more important than the fame associated with being an actor.”

In a separate interview with Inkstone, Polly gave his thoughts on why Lee would be angry with the state of Asian actors in Hollywood today:

“I think he would be really angry that there aren’t more Chinese stars in Hollywood. It’s impossible to think of a romantic hero who is Asian. He would be shocked that it is 45 years since he first starred in a Hollywood movie, and yet there still isn’t someone who’s playing heroic, romantic leads – which was what he wanted to do.”

His love of m‌arijuana likely stemmed from his dislike of alcohol — McQueen introduced Lee to the drug, and the rest, as they say, is history. According to “Enter the Dragon” costar Bob Wall, Lee would require two we‌ed brownies before he would calm down “into a normal person,” and, at a house party, he went around to all the guests to pass them their own individual blunts. When someone pointed out that this was overkill, as most people would only need one or two hits before passing it to the next person, he responded, “No need to share. I want everyone to have their own.”

Polly interviewed Lee’s wife, Linda Lee, his daughter, Shannon Lee, his sister, Phoebe Lee, as well as Betty Ting Pei.

Polly revealed that neither Linda Lee nor Shannon Lee have written a positive critique of the book for the biography’s foreword or jacket.

“I have not heard from Shannon or Linda how the feel about the book. I hope they like it and feel that I have honored his legacy.”

Betty Ting Pei, on the other hand, was very forthcoming with Polly:

“After all these years of being quiet, I think Betty was ready to tell the truth about her relationship with Bruce. I did three interviews on three separate days—about 12 hours in total—with Betty at the Peninsula Hotel. She was very kind to me—she wouldn’t let me pay for any of the meals! I just let her talk, and I listened.”

Polly also revealed Lee’s Jewish ancestry in his Inkstone interview:

“We’ve known for a long time that Bruce Lee was Eurasian, and most people assumed he was a quarter German. His ancestry was actually Jewish. His great-grandfather was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, so he had Dutch-Jewish ancestry. His grandfather had an affair with a British woman. Bruce was a quarter English, an eighth Dutch-Jewish and five-eighths Chinese. Sir Robert Ho-tung, the richest and most influential man in colonial Hong Kong, was his great-uncle.”

Polly later included his own theory on Lee’s passing:

“You can never know for sure, but my theory is that Bruce Lee d‌‌ied of heatstroke. Ten weeks before his [passing], Lee collapsed when he was dubbing sound for a movie. They turned the air-conditioning off and it was one of those super hot Hong Kong days. He was saved after being rushed to the hospital. The second time, he laid down and didn’t wake up again. The autopsy found out that he had suffered from brain swelling, which can be caused by heatstroke. About a month before his first collapse, he had his underarm sweat glands surgically removed because he thought sweaty armpits looked bad on film. The overwork also made him physically vulnerable. He had not been able to sleep and had been losing weight before his [passing].”

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How Did Bruce Lee Die?

Bruce Lee was far more than just an action-movie star. In a film career that spanned just four years and five completed films, he symbolized a new kind of movie stardom before his untimely death at just 32 years old.

Born in San Francisco in 1940, Lee moved back to his parent's native Hong Kong when he was just three months old. His father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was a famous Cantonese opera star and film actor, and Bruce was acting in Hong Kong movies from childhood. He returned to America at 18, enrolling at the University of Washington and marrying an American woman, Linda Emery.

Lee was first and foremost a kung fu expert, even developing his own style, Jeet Kune Do, or "the way of the intercepting fist." A Hong Kong-American with a Eurasian mother, he broke down racial barriers, teaching his fighting technique to students from all backgrounds. His strength was never just brute force&mdashLee also preached flexibility, grace and precision. His martial arts prowess earned him his first acting role, as the masked sidekick Kato on TV's The Green Hornet.

"Every kid, I believe, in America noticed that guy behind the Hornet&mdash the one who could kick, the one who could punch, the one who could move so amazingly&mdashall eyes centered on him," film critic Ric Meyers told Newsweek. "The makers of The Green Hornet had to actively restrain Bruce Lee from being himself because they realized every time they saw the rushes that everything else was wiped off-screen."

The series marked the first time that kung fu had been seen in the West, and earned Lee a fair amount of fame, but he was unhappy with the cartoonish aspects of his role. When Green Hornet was canceled after just 26 episodes, he returned to Hong Kong, where the show was a hit and he was viewed as a national treasure. He made a string of martial arts movies, including Big Boss, Fist of Fury and, in 1972, The Way of the Dragon, which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in. The movies were smash hits across Asia and soon Hollywood was calling for his return.

In the fall of 1972, Warner Bros offered Lee Enter the Dragon, the first of his films to be co-produced by a major American studio. Expectations were high when filming began in Hong Kong in January 1973. But on July 20, 1973, just six days before Enter the Dragon was set to be released, Bruce Lee died, suddenly and mysteriously. Perhaps in part because of that, Enter the Dragon became one of the highest-grossing films of 1973 and fueled a martial arts craze in the U.S. But how could a young man at the peak of physical fitness die so suddenly and inexplicably? That question, almost as much as his kung fu skills, has defined Bruce Lee's stardom.

Almost immediately, the rumor mill began running overtime: Hong Kong triads, a family curse, and even poisoning were all blamed for his death. That the married star had died in the house of his secret girlfriend, Betty Ting, fueled more rumors. More speculation surfaced in 1993, when Lee's actor son Brandon Lee died after being shot by a faulty prop gun on the set of The Crow.

In the 45 years since Bruce Lee's death, scientists, biographers and fans continue to speculate about what caused his cerebral edema, poring over the facts and rumors alike. Here's what we actually know about Bruce Lee's tragic death.

What happened?

Officially, Lee's death was caused by a cerebral edema, a swelling of the brain caused by excess fluid. Although Lee's brain had swelled nearly 13 percent, the coroner found no evidence of external injury. So what caused the edema?

Signs of his poor health first appeared in May 1973, just weeks before Lee's death. Suffering from headaches and seizures, he was rushed to hospital, where he was diagnosed with his first cerebral edema. Lee didn't regain consciousness until the next day, when he flew to UCLA Medical Center for further testing. According to the Matthew Polly biography Bruce Lee: A Life, doctors diagnosed the actor as having suffered a grand mal seizure, but couldn't identify the cause. After the swelling subsided Lee appeared to be back in perfect health and was given the all clear. Shortly thereafter, he left the U.S. for an extended visit to Hong Kong.

July 20 started out like any other, except perhaps for the heat&mdashit was 90 degrees, a humid summer day in Hong Kong. Lee spent the morning at his studio, discussing his upcoming film Game of Death. He ate a small amount of hash with a friend (Lee believed cannabis expanded his consciousness) before heading to Betty Ting's apartment in the early afternoon. According to Polly, the pair spent the next few hours having sex and consumed more hash. Raymond Chow, who was producing Game of Death, arrived at the apartment around 6pm. Already, Lee's ill health was apparent. "Bruce wasn't feeling very well," Chow told Polly. "I think we had some water&hellip In telling the story [of Game of Death], he acted out the whole thing. So, that probably made him a little tired and thirsty. After a few sips he seemed to be a little dizzy."

Lee complained of a headache, so Ting gave him Equagesic, a combination tranquilizer and analgesic that he had purportedly taken before. He went to lie down in her bedroom but about two hours later, when Ting went to wake him, he was nonresponsive.

By the time the paramedics arrived, Bruce Lee was dead.

The autopsy

A full autopsy took place at Hong Kong's Queen Elizabeth Hospital a few days later. The medical examiner, Dr R. R. Lycette, found no signs of foul play but noted the hash and Equagesic in Lee's system. Lycette identified "congestions and edema of the brain," as the immediate cause of death but couldn't account for what caused the swelling.

In addition to his intense fitness regimen, Lee kept to a strict diet of vegetables, rice, fish and milk, and avoided refined flour and sugars. While he enjoyed marijuana, he didn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol or coffee. Still, the fact that he survived his first edema was miraculous this time, he hadn't been so lucky. Cerebral edemas are extremely dangerous and can be caused by any number of factors, including head injuries, allergies and brain tumors. Questions still remain about how such a healthy young man could so suddenly and inexplicably die.

What caused Bruce Lee's fatal edema?

"I believe the most likely cause of death is cannabis intoxication," Lycette wrote in a letter, "either due to drug idiosyncrasy or massive overdose." But there has been no links between cannabis and cerebral edemas, and most researchers question whether it's even possible to fatally overdose on marijuana.

In September 1973, two months after Lee's death, forensics expert Donald Teare was assigned to the case. Teare, who carried out the autopsy of Jimi Hendrix just three years earlier, asserted Lee had a "hypersensitivity" to the active ingredients in Equagesic that led to his death. However, some people still believed that it was the hash, rather than the Equagesic, that killed the star. The doctors who treated him in May noted Lee had consumed hash that day, too. "We gave Bruce a long talk before he was discharged from hospital, asking him not to eat hashish again," said Dr Peter Wu in the 2000 biography The Tao of Bruce Lee. "We told him that his very low percentage of body fat could make him vulnerable to drugs." Wu also cautioned that his stress levels could dramatically magnify the effects of the hash. "Since he'd already had a very bad time with the drug, we told him that the effects were likely to be worse next time."

It's possible that Lee was hypersensitive to one or more of the drugs found in his system, but he had reportedly consumed them before with no ill effects. So could something else have killed Bruce Lee?

New rumors emerge

Over the years, a wide range of theories have emerged: At a comic convention in 1975, Chuck Norris, Lee's Way of the Dragon co-star and a pallbearer at his funeral, speculated Ting had given him antibiotics that reacted with medication Lee was taking for back pain. That theory was contradicted by Lee's autopsy, but it illustrates just how much misinformation was swirling around his death. Some blamed everything from bad feng shui to a magical curse, while others believed Lee's "death" was simply a hoax to promote Game of Death .

Even the kung fu fantasy of Lee's movies bled into the rumors about his demise&mdashone theory held that Japanese martial arts experts hired ninjas poison him. "Besides the traditional Japanese-Chinese rivalry, Lee always saved his special venom for Japanese karate and judo," wrote biographer Alex Ben Block in 1974.

The press hounded Betty Ting mercilessly after Lee's passing, speculating about their relationship and even suggesting she may have killed him with her lovemaking prowess. In 2016, tabloid mogul Patrick Wang Sai-yu told the South China Morning Post that he bribed a morgue worker $200 to photograph Lee's corpse to see if it was true the action star died with an erection.

Scientific speculation

Advances in medicine since Lee's passing have led to even more conjecture about why he died: At a 2006 meeting of the American Academy of Sciences, medical examiner James Filkins postulated that Lee suffered a fatal epileptic seizure. SUDEP, or "sudden unexplained death in epilepsy," refers to the unexpected death of a seemingly healthy person with epilepsy, when no cause of death can been determined. But it wasn't coined until 1995, more than 20 years after Lee died. Seizures can be triggered by stress, which Lee was certainly under, but there's no record of him ever being diagnosed with epilepsy.

Polly offers another explanation: Bruce Lee died from heatstroke. In Bruce Lee: A Life, Polly claimed Lee had the sweat glands in his armpits removed so he would appear less sweaty on camera, and that after playing out all those fight scenes on a sweltering hot day in Hong Kong, his body gave out. Lee's symptoms on the day he died, including dizziness and headaches, are consistent with heatstroke, and cerebral edemas are often found in autopsies of people who have died of heatstroke. What's more, Lee's first edema in May took place in a hot editing room that lacked air conditioning. Like epilepsy, heatstroke was less well-researched in 1973 than it is today, so it could have slipped past the doctors.

If true, this theory is perhaps more tragic than any other for its sheer preventability: In chasing success and physical perfection, Bruce Lee neglected to care for his body in one of the most fundamental ways possible.


Contents

Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940, at the Chinese Hospital in Chinatown, San Francisco. 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. [11] Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old. [12] Bruce's father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was Han Chinese, and his mother, Grace Ho ( 何愛瑜 ), was of Eurasian ancestry. [13]

1940–1958: Early roles, schooling and martial arts initiation

Lee's father Lee Hoi-chuen was a famous Cantonese opera star. As a result, the junior Lee was introduced to the world of cinema at a very young age and appeared in several films as a child. Lee had his first role as a baby who was carried onto the stage in the film Golden Gate Girl. [14]

As a nine-year-old, he would co-star with his father in The Kid in 1950, which was based on a comic book character and was his first leading role. [15] By the time he was 18, he had appeared in twenty films. [11]

After attending Tak Sun School ( 德信學校 several blocks from his home at 218 Nathan Road, Kowloon), Lee entered the primary school division of the Catholic La Salle College at the age of 12. [16]

In 1956, due to poor academic performance and possibly poor conduct, he was transferred to St. Francis Xavier's College, where he would be mentored by Brother Edward, a teacher and coach of the school boxing team. [17] After Lee was involved in several street fights, his parents decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts. Lee's friend William Cheung [18] introduced him to Ip Man but [19] he was rejected from learning Wing Chun Kung Fu under him because of the long-standing rule in the Chinese Martial Arts world not to teach foreigners. [20] His one quarter German background from his mother's side would be an initial obstacle towards his Wing Chun training however, Cheung would speak on his behalf and Lee was accepted into the school. [21] Lee began training in Wing Chun with Yip Man. [22] Yip tried to keep his students from fighting in the street gangs of Hong Kong by encouraging them to fight in organized competitions. [23] After a year into his Wing Chun training, most of Yip Man's other students refused to train with Lee when they had learned of his mixed ancestry, as the Chinese were generally against teaching their martial arts techniques to non-Asians. [24] [25] Lee's sparring partner, Hawkins Cheung, states, "Probably fewer than six people in the whole Wing Chun clan were personally taught, or even partly taught, by Yip Man". [26] However, Lee showed a keen interest in Wing Chun and continued to train privately with Yip Man, William Cheung and Wong Shun-leung. [27]

In 1958, Bruce won the Hong Kong schools boxing tournament, knocking out the previous champion, Gary Elms, in the final. [17] That year, Lee was also a cha-cha dancer, winning Hong Kong's Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. [28]

1959–1964: Continuous studies and martial arts breakthrough

Until his late teens, Lee's street fights became more frequent and included beating the son of a feared triad family. [29] In 1958, after students from Choy Li Fut, a rival martial arts school, challenged Lee's Wing Chun school, he engaged in a fight on a rooftop. In response to an unfair punch by another boy, Bruce beat him so badly that he knocked out one of his teeth, leading to a complaint by the boy's parents to the police. Lee's mother had to go to a police station and sign a document saying that she would take full responsibility for Bruce's actions if they released him into her custody. Though she did not mention the incident to her husband, she suggested that Bruce, being an American citizen, return to the United States. Lee's father agreed, as Lee's college prospects were he to remain in Hong Kong were not very promising. [30]

The police detective came and he says "Excuse me Mr. Lee, your son is really fighting bad in school. If he gets into just one more fight I might have to put him in jail".

In April 1959, Lee's parents decided to send him to the United States to stay with his older sister, Agnes Lee ( 李秋鳳 ), who was already living with family friends in San Francisco. After 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. That year Lee also started to teach martial arts. He called what he taught Jun Fan Gung Fu (literally Bruce Lee's Kung Fu). It was basically his approach to Wing Chun. [32] Lee taught friends he met in Seattle, starting with Judo practitioner Jesse Glover, who continued to teach some of Lee's early techniques. Taky Kimura became Lee's first Assistant Instructor and continued to teach his art and philosophy after Lee's death. [33] Lee opened his first martial arts school, named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in Seattle.

In December 1960, Lee completed his high school education and received his diploma from Edison Technical School on Capitol Hill in Seattle. [ citation needed ]

In March 1961, Lee enrolled at the University of Washington and studied dramatic arts, philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects. [34] [35] Despite what Lee himself and many others have stated, Lee's official major was drama rather than philosophy according to a 1999 article in the university's alumni publication. [36]

Lee dropped out of college in early 1964 and moved to Oakland to live with James Yimm Lee. James Lee was twenty years senior to Bruce Lee and a well-known Chinese martial artist in the area. Together, they founded the second Jun Fan martial arts studio in Oakland. James Lee was also responsible for introducing Bruce Lee to Ed Parker, an American martial artist. At the invitation of Parker, Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed repetitions of two-finger push-ups (using the thumb and the index finger of one hand) with feet at approximately shoulder-width apart. In the same Long Beach event he also performed the "one inch punch". [37] Lee stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner. Lee's right arm was partly extended and his right fist approximately one inch (2.5 cm) away from the partner's chest. Without retracting his right arm, Lee then forcibly delivered the punch to volunteer Bob Baker while largely maintaining his posture, sending Baker backwards and falling into a chair said to be placed behind Baker to prevent injury, though Baker's momentum soon caused him to fall to the floor. Baker recalled, "I told Bruce not to do this type of demonstration again. When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable". [38] It was at the 1964 championships that Lee first met Taekwondo master Jhoon Goo Rhee. The two developed a friendship—a relationship from which they benefited as martial artists. Rhee taught Lee the side kick in detail, and Lee taught Rhee the "non-telegraphic" punch. [39]

In Oakland's Chinatown in 1964, Lee had a controversial private match with Wong Jack-man, a direct student of Ma Kin Fung, known for his mastery of Xingyiquan, Northern Shaolin, and T'ai chi ch'uan. According to Lee, the Chinese community issued an ultimatum to him to stop teaching non-Chinese people. When he refused to comply, he was challenged to a combat match with Wong. The arrangement was that if Lee lost, he would have to shut down his school, while if he won, he would be free to teach white people, or anyone else. [40] Wong denied this, stating that he requested to fight Lee after Lee boasted during one of his demonstrations at a Chinatown theatre that he could beat anyone in San Francisco, and that Wong himself did not discriminate against Whites or other non-Chinese people. [41] Lee commented, "That paper had all the names of the sifu from Chinatown, but they don't scare me". [42] Individuals known to have witnessed the match include Cadwell, James Lee (Bruce Lee's associate, no relation), and William Chen, a teacher of T'ai chi ch'uan. Wong and William Chen stated that the fight lasted an unusually long 20–25 minutes. [41] [43] Wong claims that although he had originally expected a serious but polite bout, Lee aggressively attacked him with intent to kill. When Wong presented the traditional handshake, Lee appeared to accept the greeting, but instead, Lee allegedly thrust his hand as a spear aimed at Wong's eyes. Forced to defend his life, Wong nonetheless asserted that he refrained from striking Lee with killing force when the opportunity presented itself because it could have earned him a prison sentence, but used illegal cufflings under his sleeves. According to Michael Dorgan's 1980 book Bruce Lee's Toughest Fight, the fight ended due to Lee's "unusually winded" condition, as opposed to a decisive blow by either fighter. [41] However, according to Bruce Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, and James Yimm Lee, the fight lasted a mere three minutes with a decisive victory for Lee. In Cadwell's account, "The fight ensued, it was a no-holds-barred fight, it took three minutes. Bruce got this guy down to the ground and said 'Do you give up?' and the man said he gave up". [40] A couple of weeks after the bout, Lee gave an interview claiming that he had defeated an unnamed challenger, which Wong says was an obvious reference to him. [41] [43] In response, Wong published his own account of the fight in the Chinese Pacific Weekly, a Chinese-language newspaper in San Francisco, with an invitation to a public rematch if Lee was not satisfied with the account. Lee did not respond to the invitation despite his reputation for violently responding to every provocation, [41] and there were no further public announcements by either, though Lee continued to teach white people. Lee had abandoned thoughts of a film career in favour of pursuing martial arts. However, a martial arts exhibition on Long Beach in 1964 eventually led to the invitation by television producer William Dozier for an audition for a role in the pilot for "Number One Son" about Lee Chan, the son of Charlie Chan. The show never materialized, but Dozier saw potential in Lee. [44]

1966–1970: American roles and creating Jeet Kune Do

From 1966 to 1967, Lee played the role of Kato alongside the title character played by Van Williams in the TV series produced and narrated by William Dozier [45] titled The Green Hornet, based on the radio show by the same name. [46] [44] The show lasted only one season (26 episodes) from September 1966 to March 1967. Lee and Williams also appeared as their characters in three crossover episodes of Batman, another William Dozier-produced television series. [47] [48] [49]

The Green Hornet introduced the adult Bruce Lee to an American audience, and became the first popular American show presenting Asian-style martial arts. The show's director wanted Lee to fight in the typical American style using fists and punches. As a professional martial artist, Lee refused, insisting that he should fight in the style of his expertise. At first, Lee moved so fast that his movements could not be caught on film, so he had to slow them down. [50] After the show was cancelled in 1967, Lee wrote to Dozier thanking him for starting "my career in show business". [50]

In 1967, Lee played a role in one episode of Ironside.

Jeet Kune Do originated in 1967. After filming one season of The Green Hornet, Lee found himself out of work and opened The Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. The controversial match with Wong Jack-man influenced Lee's philosophy about martial arts. Lee concluded that the fight had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential using his Wing Chun techniques. He took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalized to be practical in scenarios of chaotic street fighting. Lee decided to develop a system with an emphasis on "practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency". He started to use different methods of training such as weight training for strength, running for endurance, stretching for flexibility, and many others which he constantly adapted, including fencing and basic boxing techniques. [ citation needed ]

Lee emphasized what he called "the style of no style". This consisted of getting rid of the formalized approach which Lee claimed was indicative of traditional styles. Lee felt that even the system he now called Jun Fan Gung Fu was too restrictive, and it eventually evolved into a philosophy and martial art he would come to call Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist. It is a term he would later regret, because Jeet Kune Do implied specific parameters that styles connote, whereas the idea of his martial art was to exist outside of parameters and limitations. [52]

At the time, two of Lee's martial arts students were Hollywood script writer Stirling Silliphant and actor James Coburn. In 1969, the three worked on a script for a film called The Silent Flute, and went together on a location hunt to India. The project was not realised at the time, but the 1978 film Circle of Iron, starring David Carradine, was based on the same plot. In 2010, producer Paul Maslansky was reported to have planned and received funding for a film based on the original script for The Silent Flute. [53] In 1969, Lee made a brief appearance in the Silliphant-penned film Marlowe, where he played a hoodlum hired to intimidate private detective Philip Marlowe, (played by James Garner), who uses his martial arts abilities to commit acts of vandalization to intimidate Marlowe. [54] [55] The same year, he was credited as the karate advisor in The Wrecking Crew, the fourth installment of the Matt Helm comedy spy-fi film starring Dean Martin. [56] Also that year, Lee acted in one episode of Here Come the Brides and Blondie. [57] [58]

In 1970, he was responsible for fight choreography for A Walk in the Spring Rain starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn, again written by Silliphant. [59] [60]

1971–1973: Hong Kong films and Hollywood breakthrough

In 1971, Lee appeared in four episodes of the television series Longstreet, written by Silliphant. Lee played Li Tsung the martial arts instructor of the title character Mike Longstreet (played by James Franciscus), and important aspects of his martial arts philosophy were written into the script. [61] [62] According to statements made by Lee, and also by Linda Lee Cadwell after Lee's death, in 1971 Lee pitched a television series of his own tentatively titled The Warrior, discussions of which were also confirmed by Warner Bros. During a December 9, 1971 television interview on The Pierre Berton Show, Lee stated that both Paramount and Warner Brothers wanted him "to be in a modernized type of a thing, and that they think the Western idea is out, whereas I want to do the Western". [63] According to Cadwell, however, Lee's concept was retooled and renamed Kung Fu, but Warner Bros. gave Lee no credit. [64] Warner Brothers states that they had for some time been developing an identical concept, [65] created by two writers and producers, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander in 1969, [66] as stated too by Lee's biographer Matthew E. Polly. [67] According to these sources, the reason Lee was not cast was because he had a thick accent, [68] but Fred Weintraub attributes that to his ethnicity. [69] [70] The role of the Shaolin monk in the Wild West was eventually awarded to then-non-martial-artist David Carradine. In The Pierre Berton Show interview, Lee stated he understood Warner Brothers' attitudes towards casting in the series: "They think that business-wise it is a risk. I don't blame them. If the situation were reversed, and an American star were to come to Hong Kong, and I was the man with the money, I would have my own concerns as to whether the acceptance would be there". [71]

Producer Fred Weintraub had advised Lee to return to Hong Kong and make a feature film which he could showcase to executives in Hollywood. [72] Not happy with his supporting roles in the US, Lee returned to Hong Kong. Unaware that The Green Hornet had been played to success in Hong Kong and was unofficially referred to as "The Kato Show", he was surprised to be recognized as the star of the show. [73] After negotiating with both Shaw Brothers Studio and Golden Harvest, Lee signed a film contract to star in two films produced by Golden Harvest.

Lee played his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971), which proved to be an enormous box office success across Asia and catapulted him to stardom. He soon followed up with Fist of Fury (1972), which broke the box office records set previously by The Big Boss. Having finished his initial two-year contract, Lee negotiated a new deal with Golden Harvest. Lee later formed his own company, Concord Production Inc., with Chow. For his third film, Way of the Dragon (1972), he was given complete control of the film's production as the writer, director, star, and choreographer of the fight scenes. In 1964, at a demonstration in Long Beach, California, Lee met karate champion Chuck Norris. In Way of the Dragon Lee introduced Norris to moviegoers as his opponent, their showdown has been characterized as "one of the best fight scenes in martial arts and film history". [74] [75] The role had originally been offered to American karate champion Joe Lewis. [76] Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon went on to gross an estimated US$100 million and US$130 million worldwide, respectively. [77]

From August to October 1972, Lee began work on his fourth Golden Harvest film Game of Death. He began filming some scenes, including his fight sequence with 7 ft 2 in (218 cm) American basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former student. Production stopped in November 1972 when Warner Brothers offered Lee the opportunity to star in Enter the Dragon, the first film to be produced jointly by Concord, Golden Harvest, and Warner Bros. Filming began in Hong Kong in February 1973 and was completed in April 1973. [78] One month into the filming, another production company, Starseas Motion Pictures, promoted Bruce Lee as a leading actor in Fist of Unicorn, although he had merely agreed to choreograph the fight sequences in the film as a favour to his long-time friend Unicorn Chan. Lee planned to sue the production company, but retained his friendship with Chan. [79] However, only a few months after the completion of Enter the Dragon, and six days before its July 26, 1973 release, Lee died. Enter the Dragon would go on to become one of the year's highest-grossing films and cement Lee as a martial arts legend. It was made for US$850,000 in 1973 (equivalent to $4 million adjusted for inflation as of 2007). [80] Enter the Dragon went on to gross an estimated $350 million worldwide. [81] [82] The film sparked a brief fad in martial arts, epitomised in songs such as "Kung Fu Fighting" and some TV shows.

1978–present: Posthumous work

Robert Clouse, the director of Enter the Dragon, together with Golden Harvest, revived Lee's unfinished film Game of Death. Lee had shot over 100 minutes of footage, including out-takes, for Game of Death before shooting was stopped to allow him to work on Enter the Dragon. In addition to Abdul-Jabbar, George Lazenby, Hapkido master Ji Han-Jae, and another of Lee's students, Dan Inosanto, were also to appear in the film, which was to culminate in Lee's character, Hai Tien (clad in the now-famous yellow track suit [83] [84] ) taking on a series of different challengers on each floor as they make their way through a five-level pagoda. In a controversial move, Robert Clouse finished the film using a look-alike and archive footage of Lee from his other films with a new storyline and cast, which was released in 1978. However, the cobbled-together film contained only fifteen minutes of actual footage of Lee (he had printed many unsuccessful takes) [85] while the rest had a Lee look-alike, Kim Tai Chung, and Yuen Biao as stunt double. The unused footage Lee had filmed was recovered 22 years later and included in the documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey.

Apart from Game of Death, other future film projects were planned to feature Lee at the time. In 1972, after the success of The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, a third film was planned by Raymond Chow at Golden Harvest to be directed by Lo Wei, titled Yellow-Faced Tiger. However, at the time, Lee decided to direct and produce his own script for Way of the Dragon instead. Although Lee had formed a production company with Raymond Chow, a period film was also planned from September–November 1973 with the competing Shaw Brothers Studio, to be directed by either Chor Yuen or Cheng Kang, and written by Yi Kang and Chang Cheh, titled The Seven Sons of the Jade Dragon. [86]

In 2015, Perfect Storm Entertainment and Bruce Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, announced that the series The Warrior would be produced and would air on the Cinemax and filmmaker Justin Lin was chosen to direct the series. [87] Production began on October 22, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. The first season will contain 10 episodes. [88] In April 2019, Cinemax renewed the series for a second season. [89]

On March 25, 2021, it was announced that producer Jason Kothari has acquired the rights to The Silent of Flute "to become a miniseries, which will have John Fusco as a screenwriter and executive producer. [90]

Unproduced works

Lee had also worked on several scripts himself. A tape containing a recording of Lee narrating the basic storyline to a film tentatively titled Southern Fist/Northern Leg exists, showing some similarities with the canned script for The Silent Flute (Circle of Iron). [91] Another script had the title Green Bamboo Warrior, set in San Francisco, planned to co-star Bolo Yeung and to be produced by Andrew Vajna. [79] Photoshoot costume tests were also organized for some of these planned film projects.

Bruce Lee
StyleJeet Kune Do (founder)
Chinese martial arts ( Wing Chun , [92] tai chi), [93]
boxing, [17] street fighting, [29] judo, [94] taekwondo, [39] wrestling, [94] epée fencing , various other styles (by personal tutoring and research)
Teacher(s)Ip Man and Wong Shun-leung (wing chun),
Brother Edward (boxing), [17]
Jhoon Rhee (taekwondo), [39]
Gene LeBell (judo), others
Notable studentsJesse Glover, James DeMile, Linda Lee Cadwell, Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura, Ted Wong, James Yimm Lee , Joe Lewis, Jhoon Rhee , Mike Stone, Gene LeBell , Chuck Norris, Steve McQueen , Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, James Coburn, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Brandon Lee , others

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. [93] In his teens, Lee became involved in Hong Kong gang conflicts, which led to frequent street fights. [29] The largest influence on Lee's martial arts development was his study of Wing Chun. [92] Lee was 16 years old under the Wing Chun teacher Yip Man, between late 1956 and 1957, after losing to rival gang members. Yip's regular classes generally consisted of the forms practice, chi sao (sticking hands) drills, wooden dummy techniques, and free sparring. There was no set pattern to the classes. [22]

Lee was also trained in boxing, between 1956 and 1958, by Brother Edward, coach of the St. Francis Xavier's College boxing team. Lee went on to win the Hong Kong schools boxing tournament in 1958, while scoring a knockdown against the previous champion Gary Elms in the final. [17] After moving to the United States, Lee was heavily influenced by heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, whose footwork he studied and incorporated into his own style in the 1960s. [95]

At 172 cm (5 ft 8 in) and weighing 64 kg (141 lb) at the time, [96] Lee was renowned for his physical fitness and vigor, achieved by using a dedicated fitness regimen to become as strong as possible. After his match with Wong Jack-man in 1965, Lee changed his approach toward martial arts training. Lee felt that many martial artists of his time did not spend enough time on physical conditioning. Lee included all elements of total fitness—muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. He used traditional bodybuilding techniques to build some muscle mass, though not overdone, as that could decrease speed or flexibility. At the same time, with respect to balance, Lee maintained that mental and spiritual preparation are fundamental to the success of physical training in martial arts skills. In Tao of Jeet Kune Do he wrote:

Training is one of the most neglected phases of athletics. Too much time is given to the development of skill and too little to the development of the individual for participation. . JKD, ultimately is not a matter of petty techniques but of highly developed spirituality and physique. [97]

Lee also favored cross-training between different fighting styles, and had a particular interest in grappling. [98] After befriending accomplished grappler Gene LeBell on the set of The Green Hornet, Lee offered to teach him striking arts in exchange for being taught judo and wrestling techniques. [94] [99] He also trained with other judokas in Seattle and California, and expressed to LeBell a wish to integrate judo into his fighting style. [98] Although Lee opined grappling was of little use on action choreography because it was not visually distinctive, [99] he did showcase grappling moves in his own films, such as Way of the Dragon, where his character finishes his opponent with a neck hold inspired by LeBell, [94] and Enter the Dragon, whose prologue features Lee submitting an opponent with an armbar. [98]

According to Linda Lee Cadwell, soon after he moved to the United States, Lee started to take nutrition seriously and developed an interest in health foods, high-protein drinks, and vitamin and mineral supplements. He later concluded that achieving a high-performance body was akin to maintaining the engine of a high-performance automobile. Allegorically, as one could not keep a car running on low-octane fuels, one could not sustain one's body with a steady diet of junk food, and with "the wrong fuel", one's body would perform sluggishly or sloppily. [100] Lee also avoided baked goods and refined flour, describing them as providing empty calories that did nothing for his body. [101] He was known for being a fan of Asian cuisine for its variety, and often ate meals with a combination of vegetables, rice, and fish. Lee had a dislike for dairy products and as a result, used powdered milk in his diet. [102] Lee was also influenced by the training routine of The Great Gama (Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt), an Indian/Pakistani pehlwani wrestler known for his grappling strength Lee incorporated Gama's exercises into his own training routine. [103]

Lee demonstrated his Jeet Kune Do martial arts at the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1964 and 1968, with the latter having higher-quality video footage available. Lee can be seen demonstrating quick eye strikes before his opponent can block, and demonstrating the one-inch punch on several volunteers. He also demonstrates chi sao drills while blindfolded against an opponent, probing for weaknesses in his opponent while scoring with punches and takedowns. Lee then participates in a full-contact sparring bout against an opponent, with both wearing leather head gear. Lee can be seen implementing his Jeet Kune Do concept of economical motion, using Muhammad Ali inspired footwork to keep out of range while counter-attacking with backfists and straight punches. He also halts his opponent's attacks with stop-hit side kicks, and quickly executes several sweeps and head kicks. The opponent repeatedly attempts to attack Lee, but is never able to connect with a clean hit he once manages to come close with a spin kick, but Lee counters it. The fight footage was reviewed by Black Belt magazine in 1995, concluding that "the action is as fast and furious as anything in Lee's films." [104]

It was at the 1964 championships that Lee first met taekwondo master Jhoon Goo Rhee. While Rhee taught Lee the side kick in detail, Lee taught Rhee the "non-telegraphic" punch. [39] Rhee learned what he calls the "accupunch" from Lee and incorporated it into American taekwondo. The "accupunch" is a rapid fast punch that is very difficult to block, based on human reaction time—"the idea is to finish the execution of the punch before the opponent can complete the brain-to-wrist communication." [105]

Philosophy

While best known as a martial artist, Lee also studied drama and Asian and Western philosophy starting while a student at the University of Washington. He was well-read and had an extensive library dominated by martial arts subjects and philosophical texts. [106] His own books on martial arts and fighting philosophy are known for their philosophical assertions, both inside and outside of martial arts circles. His eclectic philosophy often mirrored his fighting beliefs, though he was quick to claim that his martial arts were solely a metaphor for such teachings. He believed that any knowledge ultimately led to self-knowledge, and said that his chosen method of self-expression was martial arts. [107] His influences include Taoism, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Buddhism. [108] Lee's philosophy was very much in opposition to the conservative worldview advocated by Confucianism. [109] John Little states that Lee was an atheist. When asked in 1972 about his religious affiliation, he replied, "none whatsoever", [110] and when asked if he believed in God, he said, "To be perfectly frank, I really do not." [107]

Poetry

Aside from martial arts and philosophy, which focus on the physical aspect and self-consciousness for truths and principles, [111] Lee also wrote poetry that reflected his emotion and a stage in his life collectively. [112] Many forms of art remain concordant with the artist creating them. Lee's principle of self-expression was applied to his poetry as well. His daughter Shannon Lee said, "He did write poetry he was really the consummate artist." [113] His poetic works were originally handwritten on paper, then later on edited and published, with John Little being the major author (editor), for Bruce Lee's works. Linda Lee Cadwell (Bruce Lee's wife) shared her husband's notes, poems, and experiences with followers. She mentioned "Lee's poems are, by American standards, rather dark—reflecting the deeper, less exposed recesses of the human psyche". [114] Most of Bruce Lee's poems are categorized as anti-poetry or fall into a paradox. The mood in his poems shows the side of the man that can be compared with other poets such as Robert Frost, one of many well-known poets expressing himself with dark poetic works. The paradox taken from the Yin and Yang symbol in martial arts was also integrated into his poetry. His martial arts and philosophy contribute a great part to his poetry. The free verse form of Lee's poetry reflects his famous quote "Be formless . shapeless, like water." [115]

Names

Lee's Cantonese birth name was Lee Jun-fan ( 李振藩 ). [116] 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. [117] Because of his mother's superstitious nature, she had originally named him Sai-fon ( 細鳳 ), which is a feminine name meaning "small phoenix". [31] The English name "Bruce" is thought to have been given by the hospital attending physician, Dr. Mary Glover. [118]

Lee had three other Chinese names: Lee Yuen-cham ( 李源鑫 ), a family/clan name Lee Yuen-kam ( 李元鑒 ), which he used as a student name while he was attending La Salle College, and his Chinese screen name Lee Siu-lung ( 李小龍 Siu-lung means "little dragon"). [ citation needed ] 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 ). [ citation needed ] Hence, the Chinese character for Jun in Lee's name was changed to the homonym 振 instead, to avoid naming taboo in Chinese tradition. [ citation needed ]

Family

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 in numerous Chinese communities there.

Although many of his peers decided to stay in the US, 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 half-niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, [119] [120] 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. [31]

Grace Ho is reported as either the adopted or biological daughter of Ho Kom-tong (Ho Gumtong, 何甘棠 ) and the half-niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, both notable Hong Kong businessmen and philanthropists. [119] Bruce was the fourth of five children: Phoebe Lee ( 李秋源 ), Agnes Lee ( 李秋鳳 ), Peter Lee, and Robert Lee.

Grace's parentage remains unclear. Linda Lee, in her 1989 biography The Bruce Lee Story, suggests that Grace had a German father and was a Catholic. [74] Bruce Thomas, in his influential 1994 biography Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit, suggests that Grace had a Chinese mother and a German father. [121] Lee's relative Eric Peter Ho, in his 2010 book Tracing My Children's Lineage, suggests that Grace was born in Shanghai to a Eurasian woman named Cheung King-sin. [121] Eric Peter Ho said that Grace Lee was the daughter of a mixed race Shanghainese woman and her father was Ho Kom Tong. Grace Lee said her mother was English and her father was Chinese. [122] Fredda Dudley Balling said Grace Lee was three-quarters Chinese and one-quarter British. [123]

In the 2018 biography Bruce Lee: A Life, Matthew Polly identifies Lee's maternal grandfather as Ho Kom-tong, who had often been reported as his adoptive grandfather. Ho Kom-tong's father, Charles Maurice Bosman, [124] was a Dutch Jewish businessman from Rotterdam. [125] He moved to Hong Kong with the Dutch East India Company and served as the Dutch consul to Hong Kong at one time. He had a Chinese concubine named Sze Tai with whom he had six children, including Ho Kom Tong. Bosman subsequently abandoned his family and immigrated to California. [126] Ho Kom Tong became a wealthy businessman with a wife, 13 concubines, and a British mistress who gave birth to Grace Ho. [127] [128] [129]

His younger brother Robert Lee Jun-fai is a notable musician and singer, his group The Thunderbirds were famous in Hong Kong. [130] [131] [132] A few singles were sung mostly or all in English. Also released was Lee singing a duet with Irene Ryder. [133] Lee Jun-fai lived with Lee in Los Angeles in the United States and stayed. After Lee's death, Lee Jun-fai released an album and the single by the same name dedicated to Lee called The Ballad of Bruce Lee. [134]

While studying at the University of Washington 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: Brandon (1965–1993) and Shannon Lee (born 1969). Upon's Lee passing in 1973, she continued to promote Bruce Lee's martial art Jeet Kune Do. She wrote the 1975 book Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, on which the 1993 feature film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story was based. [135] In 1989, she wrote the book The Bruce Lee Story. She retired in 2001 from the family estate.

Lee died when his son Brandon was eight years old. While alive, Lee taught Brandon martial arts and would invite him to visit sets. This gave Brandon the desire to act and went on to study the craft. As a young adult, Brandon Lee found some success acting in action-oriented pictures such as Legacy of Rage (1986), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), and Rapid Fire (1992). In 1993, at the age of 28, Brandon Lee died after being accidentally shot by a prop gun on the set of The Crow.

Lee died when his daughter Shannon was four. In her youth she studied Jeet Kune Do under Richard Bustillo, one of her father's students however, her serious studies did not begin until the late 1990s. To train for parts in action movies, she studied Jeet Kune Do with Ted Wong. [136]

Friends, students, and contemporaries

Lee's brother Robert with his friends Taky Kimura, Dan Inosanto, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Peter Chin were his pallbearers. [137] Coburn was a martial arts student and a friend of Lee. Coburn worked with Lee and Stirling Silliphant on developing The Silent Flute. Upon Lee's early death, at his funeral Coburn gave a eulogy. [137] McQueen was also a martial arts student and a friend of Lee. Both were very competitive of their success. Lee made no secret that he wanted everything McQueen had and would stop at nothing to get it. [138] [139] [140] Inosanto and Kimura were friends and disciple of Lee. Inosanto who would go on to train Lee's son Brandon. [141] [142] Kimura continued to teach Lee's craft in Seattle. [143] According to Lee's wife, Chin was a lifelong family's friend and a student of Lee. [144]

James Yimm Lee (no relation) was one of Lee's three personally certified 3rd rank instructors and co-founded the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Oakland where he taught Jun Fan Gung Fu in Lee's absence. James was responsible for introducing Lee to Ed Parker, the organizer of the Long Beach International Karate Championships, where Lee was first introduced to the martial arts community. [145]

Hollywood couple Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate studied martial arts with Lee. Polanski flew Lee to Switzerland to train him. Tate studied with Lee in preparation for her role in The Wrecking Crew. After Tate was murdered by the Manson Family, Polanski initially suspected Lee. [146]

Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant was a martial arts student and a friend of Lee. [147] [148] Silliphant worked with Lee and James Coburn on developing The Silent Flute. [149] Lee acted and provided his martial arts expertise in several projects penned by Silliphant, the first in Marlowe (1969) where Lee plays Winslow Wong a hoodlum well versed in martial arts, Lee also did fight choreographies for the film A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970), and Lee played Li Tsung a Jeet Kune Do instructor who teaches the main character in the television show Longstreet (1971), included in the script were elements of his martial arts philosophy. [54] [55] [59] [60] [61] [62]

Basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar studied martial arts and developed a friendship with Lee. [59]

Actor and karate champion Chuck Norris was a friend and training partner of Lee's. [150] After Lee's passing, Norris said he kept in touch with Lee's family, and that their sons Eric Norris and Brandon became friends. [151]

Judoka and professional wrestler Gene LeBell became a friend of Lee on the set of The Green Hornet. They trained together and exchanged their knowledge of martial arts. [94] [99]

On May 10, 1973, Lee collapsed during an automated dialogue replacement 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. [152]

On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong to have dinner with actor 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. [153] [154]

Later, Lee complained of a headache, and Ting gave him the 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 come for dinner, Chow came to the apartment, but he was unable to wake Lee up. A doctor was summoned, and spent ten minutes attempting to revive Lee before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Lee was declared dead on arrival at the age of 32. [155]

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 percent 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, it was officially ruled a "death by misadventure". [156] [157]

Lee's wife Linda returned to her hometown of Seattle, and had Lee's body buried in Lake View Cemetery in Seattle. [158] [159] Pallbearers at Lee's funeral on July 25, 1973 included Taky Kimura, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Dan Inosanto, Peter Chin, and Lee's brother Robert. [160] Around the time of Lee's death, numerous rumors appeared in the media. [161] Lee's iconic status and untimely death fed many wild rumors and theories. These included murder involving the triads and a supposed curse on him and his family, rumors that persist to the present day. [162]

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 cerebral edema due to a reaction to compounds present in the combination medication Equagesic. [163] Although there was initial speculation that cannabis found in Lee's stomach may have contributed to his death, Teare said it would "be both 'irresponsible and irrational' to say that [cannabis] might have triggered either the events of Bruce's collapse on May 10 or his death on July 20". [163] Dr. R. R. Lycette, the clinical pathologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, reported at the coroner hearing that the death could not have been caused by cannabis. [163]

At the 1975 San Diego Comic-Con convention, Lee's friend Chuck Norris attributed his death to a reaction to the combination of the muscle-relaxant medication he had been taking since 1968 for a ruptured disc in his back and an "antibiotic" he was given for his headache on the night of his death. [164]

In a 2018 biography, author Matthew Polly consulted with medical experts and theorized that Lee died from cerebral edema caused by over-exertion and heat stroke and heat stroke was not considered at the time because it was then a poorly-understood condition. [165] Furthermore, Lee had his underarm sweat glands removed in late 1972, in the apparent belief that underarm sweat was unphotogenic on film. Polly further theorized that this caused Lee's body to overheat while practicing in hot temperatures on May 10 and July 20, 1973, resulting in heat stroke that in turn exacerbated the cerebral edema that led to his death. [165]

Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines that was founded by Lee, is often credited with paving the way for modern mixed martial arts (MMA). [166] [167] [168] Lee is considered by commentators, critics, media, and other martial artists to be the most influential martial artist of all time [169] [170] [171] and a pop culture icon of the 20th century, who bridged the gap between East and West. [172] [173]

Cultural impact

He is credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films [3] and was largely responsible for launching the "kung fu craze" of the 1970s. [174] [175] He initially introduced kung fu to the West with American television shows such as The Green Hornet and Kung Fu, [175] before the "kung fu craze" began with the dominance of Hong Kong martial arts films in 1973. [174] Lee's success subsequently inspired a wave of Western martial arts films and television shows throughout the 1970s–1990s (launching the careers of Western martial arts stars such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris), as well as the more general integration of Asian martial arts into Western action films and television shows during the 1980s–1990s. [175] Enter the Dragon has been cited as one of the most influential action films of all time. Sascha Matuszak of Vice said Enter the Dragon "is referenced in all manner of media, the plot line and characters continue to influence storytellers today, and the impact was particularly felt in the revolutionizing way the film portrayed African-Americans, Asians and traditional martial arts." [176] Kuan-Hsing Chen and Beng Huat Chua cited fight scenes in Lee's films such as Enter the Dragon as being influential for the way they pitched "an elemental story of good against evil in such a spectacle-saturated way". [177]

The concept of mixed martial arts was popularized in the West by Bruce Lee via his system of Jeet Kune Do. Lee believed that "the best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style, to be formless, to adopt an individual's own style and not following the system of styles." In 2004, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) founder Dana White called Lee the "father of mixed martial arts" and stated: "If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away". [178] Lee was largely responsible for many people taking up martial arts. [168] These include numerous fighters in combat sports who were inspired by Lee. For example, boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard said he perfected his jab by watching Lee, boxing champion Manny Pacquiao compared his fighting style to Lee, and UFC champion Conor McGregor also compared himself to Lee and said that he believes Lee would have been a champion in the UFC if he were to compete in the present day. [179] Lee inspired the foundation of American full-contact kickboxing tournaments by Joe Lewis [168] and Benny Urquidez in the 1970s. [168] [180] American taekwondo pioneer Jhoon Goo Rhee learnt from Lee what he calls the "accupunch", which he incorporated into American taekwondo Rhee later coached heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and taught him the "accupunch", which Ali used to knockout Richard Dunn in 1975. [105] According to heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, "everyone wanted to be Bruce Lee" in the 1970s. [181] UFC pound-for-pound champion Jon Jones also cited Lee as inspiration, [182] with Jones known for frequently using the oblique kick to the knee, a technique that was popularized by Lee. [183] Numerous other UFC fighters have cited Lee as their inspiration, with several referring to him as a "godfather" or "grandfather" of MMA. [184]

In Japan, the manga and anime franchises Fist of the North Star (1983–1988) and Dragon Ball (1984–1995) were inspired by Lee films such as Enter the Dragon. [185] [186] In turn, Fist of the North Star and especially Dragon Ball are credited with setting the trends for popular shōnen manga and anime from the 1980s onwards. [187] [188] Spike Spiegel, the protagonist from the 1997 anime Cowboy Bebop, is seen practicing Jeet Kune Do and quotes Lee. [189] Similarly in India, Lee films had an influence on Bollywood masala films [190] after the success of Lee's films such as Enter the Dragon in India, [191] Deewaar (1975) and later Bollywood films incorporated fight scenes inspired by 1970s Hong Kong martial arts films up until the 1990s. [192] Bruce Lee films such as Game of Death and Enter the Dragon were also the foundation for video game genres such as beat 'em up action games and fighting games. [193] [194] [195] The first beat 'em up game, Kung-Fu Master (1984), was based on Lee's Game of Death. [196] The Street Fighter video game franchise (1987 debut) was inspired by Enter the Dragon, with the gameplay centered around an international fighting tournament, and each character having a unique combination of ethnicity, nationality and fighting style Street Fighter went on to set the template for all fighting games that followed. [197] In April 2014, Lee was named a featured character in the combat sports video game EA Sports UFC, and is playable in multiple weight classes. [198] Numerous sports and entertainment figures have cited Lee as an inspiration, including actors such as Jackie Chan [199] and Eddie Murphy, [200] actresses Olivia Munn and Dianne Doan, musicians such as Steve Aoki and Rohan Marley, rapper LL Cool J, comedians Eddie Griffin and W. Kamau Bell, basketball players Stephen Curry and Jamal Murray, skaters Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi, UFC champions Uriah Hall and Anderson Silva, and American football player Kyler Murray, among others. [199]

Though Bruce Lee did not appear in commercials during his lifetime, Nokia launched an internet-based campaign in 2008 with staged "documentary-looking" footage of Bruce Lee playing ping-pong with his nunchaku and also igniting matches as they are thrown toward him. The videos went viral on YouTube, creating confusion as some people believed them to be authentic footage. [201]

Awards

  • 1972: Golden Horse Awards Best Mandarin Film
  • 1972: Fist of Fury Special Jury Award [202]
  • 1994: Hong Kong Film Award for Lifetime Achievement[202]
  • 1999: Named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century[3]
  • 2004: Star of the Century Award[203]
  • 2013: The Asian Awards Founders Award [204]

Statues

    : unveiled June 15, 2013, [205] Chinatown Central Plaza, Los Angeles, California : 2.5 m (8.2 ft) bronzestatue of Lee was unveiled on November 27, 2005, on what would have been his 65th birthday. [206] : The day before the Hong Kong statue was dedicated, the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina unveiled its own 1.68 m (5.5 ft) bronze statue supporters of the statue cited Lee as a unifying symbol against the ethnic divisions in the country, which had culminated in the 1992–95 Bosnian War. [207]

Places

A theme park dedicated to Lee was built in Jun'an, Guangdong. Mainland Chinese only started watching Bruce Lee films in the 1980s, when videos of classic movies like The Chinese Connection became available. Films like Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury were banned by Mao as spiritual pollution and rightist sentimentality. [208]

On January 6, 2009, it was announced that Lee's Hong Kong home (41 Cumberland Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong) would be preserved and transformed into a tourist site by Yu Pang-lin. [209] [210] Yu died in 2015 and this plan did not materialize. [211] In 2018, Yu's grandson, Pang Chi-ping, said: "We will convert the mansion into a centre for Chinese studies next year, which provides courses like Mandarin and Chinese music for children." [212]


Bruce Lee was murdered

I have to establish the history before I get to the motive. It was stated back in 1973 (the year of his death) by none other than James Coburn (who wanted Bruce to film The Silent Flute for 20th Century Fox) that Lee said to him (when they were in Hong Kong):

“If Paramount can give Brando a million bucks, the Shaws can do the same for me.”

It was a vengeful ploy to make a prestigious Kung Fu film with the biggest studio in Southeast Asia on his terms. R.R. Shaw had already sent a correspondent to name his price. Various writers begun preparing scripts, and names of directors began to get tossed about. Chor Yuen (楚原) was said to have the uppermost advantage because of his acquaintanceship with Bruce, who was to be directed by Cheng Kang (程剛) instead of Chang Cheh (張徹). Raymond Chow, a former Shaw Brothers employee who can be found on Google as 鄒文懷, was well aware of the Shaws tampering with Golden Harvest’s biggest cash cow.

Working for S.B. at a production cost and a pay-rate that G.H. could not match would’ve meant the end for Ray. Not to mention the truly tremendous loss of face, being that it was he who gave Lee his shot to superstardom. A Shaw production would’ve been more lavish than the Hollywood glamour that Enter the Dragon was meant to be. At every level inside the production of Enter the Dragon (龍爭虎鬥), Run Run had people who reported information on the project (i.e. spies working on a spy movie).

R.R. believed that the movie may not finish due to the difficulties between the oddly coupled H.K. and U.S. studios. Before getting into the film industry, Ray worked for Taiwan’s equivalent to the C.I.A. – National Security Bureau (meaning he could cover his tracks). This is according to Chang Cheh’s memoir. Naysayers will say that the truth would’ve come out by now, but you have to account for the mysterious absences of Richey Edwards and Jimmy Hoffa. Some people know what happened to their bodies, but that doesn’t mean they are going to come out with the truth…even on their deathbeds.

Ray initially didn’t want Bruce to do Enter the Dragon, because he didn’t want to lose him to the U.S. studios. However, Enter the Dragon was more than Lee’s chance to be a Hollywood movie star. It was his chance to prove that he could’ve easily played David Carradine’s Kwai Chang Caine i.e. a serene master. Ray, eventually sympathizing with Lee’s loss of face, saw that working with Warner Brothers had opened up possibilities more endless than what Shaw had (although The Way of the Dragon would inspire S.B. to collaborate with Italian production companies).

If Ray could develop strong ties with W.B. then he would never have to worry about S.B. again. Because of the “now or never” nature of the U.S. deal, the shooting of Game of Death (死亡遊戲) was postponed so that Enter the Dragon could begin. Following on from this, Ray used Bruce to make a name for himself overseas by giving interviews to the H.K. press. He did this by stating that Bruce was like a stupid child who owed his success to Ray’s fatherly advice.

Ray proclaimed to be the puppet master to Bruce’s senseless puppet, but this backfired. W.B. were not interested in Ray’s goldenly harvested dreck (G.H. was still something of an upstart than a major global player). Bruce, not exactly the self-deprecating type, felt betrayed by his cohort (albeit they weren’t cohesive). Chaplin Chang recalled that Bruce had a tendency to hurl mother-prefixed slurs at Ray’s face, and this was before Ray tried to prevent Enter the Dragon from happening.

Lee intended for his G.H. offshoot company (Concord) to co-produce with S.B. after Enter the Dragon came to an end. He lived long enough to pose for costume test shots in more guises than what is shown in this article’s featured image of a G.H. brick wall. Before he could fully defect, Lee died after the post-production of Enter the Dragoncame to an end. In a posthumous interview, Ray stated that he didn’t view the Game of Death footage for a long time because he was too upset.

That’s odd, considering that he sent a camera crew around to film his dead friend’s home for a documentary titled Bruce Lee, the Man and the Legend. They also filmed the grieving Lee family, the funeral services, Bruce’s corpse and Ray escorting Bruce’s widow to the airport. These cinematic grave-robbers returned to film more shots of Bruce’s house as the removal men stripped the place. In a matter of months, this so-called tribute to the late Lee was being shown in H.K. cinemas.

Despite seemingly losing his golden ticket, Ray laughably harbored hopes of breaking into the U.S. scene. Game of Death was the key to the Stateside gate whereas Enter the Dragon was the locksmith. Bruce’s script was disregarded with indecent haste and replaced with a dim scenario which would hopefully convince the U.S. market that Ray could produce films just as tawdry as their own. Being the main producer was a step up for him instead of trudging behind Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller. More importantly, he didn’t have Bruce to antagonize him.

Marshall, a pivotal character, is named after Lee’s attorney whose forename was Adrian. In fact, there are many details based on Lee’s life. The initials of the character – Billy Lo. He has a Mercedes and an impulsive temper. His disguise consists of Ray Bans, Italian fashions and a beard. He even has a Caucasian girlfriend. There’s also the suspicious inclusion of on-set accidents like falling set lights. This mimics the train wreck of a production that Enter the Dragon was. The most glaring omission is marijuana due to the implausibility of a stoned fighter who is not defective.

What should be a memorial to Bruce becomes an incriminating exposé that warns stars of the dangers incurred from resisting the services of syndicates. Why else would they have gone out of their way to include footage of Bruce’s H.K. funeral? The finished job was so bad that W.B. refused to distribute it in `78, hence why Columbia distributed it in the summer of `​79 – the exact same time when a hack director wanted his own godson to be hacked by machete-wielding Triads for refusing to finish Fearless Hyena II (whose lack of completion made it hackneyed).

With Lee alive, the incomplete Game of Death would always come second to what else would’ve been lined up. It would’ve been just another Lee project as opposed to some magnum opus. In fact, his epic was going to be a period film about twelve Chinese men who leave China to work as miners in San Francisco (Green Bamboo Warrior). Lee’s grandest plan was to have his own company in America. Lam Ching-Ying (林正英) claimed that Lee wanted to emigrate the best of the H.K. stunt community to America. One man who accepted his invitation was Bolo Yeung (楊斯).

While Lo Wei (羅維) anticipated the hacking of his Fearless Hyena star, Ray never worried about Jackie Chan (成龙) abandoning G.H. after making The Big Brawl. This was because he was virtually unknown in America, so success would be as limited as his English. Speaking of English, one offer that Bruce considered was to be a voice actor for a Hanna-Barbera TV series (e.g. H-B’s The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan came out a month before Kung Fu did in 1972). This foreshadows Jackie having his own animated series (i.e. Jackie Chan Adventures).

Linda has attested to her husband having a foul temper that went well beyond the verbal scale (which he admitted in a 1971 interview). Even in the Linda-authorised Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, he goes into a blind rage (it’s fitting that there is a B-grade movie titled Blind Fists of Bruce Lee). In the month of his death, Bruce pushed Ray over a couch. Bruce confided to his youngest brother, Robert, about it. Wu Ngan (affectionately known as Ngan Jai) witnessed the push, but he has taken his side of the story to the grave.

There is a saying about the last straw that broke the camel’s back, but you have to wonder what bone that Ray broke when Bruce pushed him. I never bought into the story about Ray working with Bruce on the script for Game of Death on the day that he died. It was already finalized (as was complexly detailed in a 2001 John Little book titled The Warrior’s Journey), so Ray is obscuring the fact because he needed an alibi to avoid prosecution!

The Equagesic excuse for Lee’s passing is hogwash. The medication that he took for his headache at Betty Ting’s apartment, Beverley Heights, was similar to the meds which he was taking for his back pain (Cortisone became his Viagra). I have a hard time believing that a single tablet caused Lee’s demise when, a few months prior, he collapsed yet had not taken the drug. Too coincidentally, Ray was there on both occasions.

Ray has a Machiavellian mind, so he had to explain Bruce’s head injuries by stating that they were the by-product of filming fight scenes. Ray claimed that Bruce collapsed at home while walking in his garden with Linda. When exposed, Ray retracted by stating that he was saving Linda from the swirl of gossip, despite there already being tabloids about Betty before Bruce died. It was Ray who introduced Bruce to the actress known as Ting Pei (a.k.a. 丁珮).

Lee was smitten because she resembled a Japanese ex-girlfriend of his named Amy Sanbo. Ray played Cupid because Lee’s two picture deal was coming to an end in early 1972. Like how Jackie was lampooned by Wong Jing (王晶) in High Risk (鼠膽龍威) as being something of a womanizer, Lee was a philosophical philanderer. The endlessly sterling Stirling Silliphant (R.I.P.) claimed that Lee bragged to him that he had got it on with two women in what would have been a foursome had Silliphant not turned down Lee’s invitation.

Jon Benn cites Bruce as being constantly flirtatious on the set of The Way of the Dragon, because there were many pretty women. John Saxon claimed that, during the Enter the Dragon era, Bruce recommended that they go out with some of the Chinese women. Bob Wall claimed that Bruce collected issues of Playboy (the irony wouldn’t be lost on Bob that there would be an issue featuring Bruce 40 years down the line). Bob Baker deserves to be distrusted more than Wall, since it’s possible that Baker had an affair with Linda while Bruce was filming his directorial début in Rome.

In the last months of his life, Bruce was paranoid about people contaminating his food and drinks (there are Enter the Dragon production pics of himself holding a Thermos flask). Ahna Capri saw a stuntman near his flask, Bruce freaked out, so the kid was fired. It has been suggested that the cause of Bruce’s downfall was hashish. It made sense except that people tend to calm down when ingesting it. A circulated allegation is that he removed his armpit sweat glands because of the below Chinese Pussy Galore.

With Lee being an overactive health nut, he wouldn’t prohibit his body from removing toxins. He was such a devout reader that he was an uncompromising researcher, so if he can be paranoid about enemies then he can be paranoid about his health. Besides, the autopsy report didn’t reference scar tissue from either the armpit sweat gland removal or the Cortisone shots. One of the side effects of excessive hash intake is severe paranoia.

The fact that Bruce didn’t flee H.K. to film Enter the Dragon overseas (such as a Caribbean island) shows that he was too self-assured to be totally paranoid. If hash is laced, the drug-taker can be prone to acts of violence akin to roid rage. The question is whether Bruce was given laced hash so as to trigger a tantrum that would allow for an excuse to end him. Without lacing, hash addicts can still have dilated pupils and loss of consciousness or memory.

Consider this – you’re Bruce, you’re slowly being poisoned by someone who has access to what you eat, drink and wear. Imagine that you only trust your meek butler. One of the symptoms of consuming Nitrophenolic and Nitrocresolic herbicides (or pesticides) is thirst. Charles Lowe (a.k.a. the second unit camera operator for Enter the Dragon) witnessed Lee drink copious amounts of saké.

Anorexia was another symptom. His overtraining is seldom blamed, but he told Dan Inosanto that having a film career didn’t allow much time for training. Mitoshi Uyehara confirmed this in a book titled Bruce Lee: The Incomparable Fighter. It was published in the same year as Robert Clouse’s biography about Bruce – 1988 (the year of the dragon).

According to Dr. Peter Wu, Lee eating hashish was the only reason for his collapse in May of 1973. Peter demanded that he stop using it. Lee was inhaling cannabis since the late `60s, so he knew his limitations. He was also eating hash brownies, so he knew the outcome of that as well. Very rarely does someone die from a fatal reaction to cannabis intake. An antigen (or foreign substance) was added to what he ingested without his knowledge.

Many addicts take drugs that have been laced with an antigen which gives them a sickly reaction. The result can be either a deathbed or a sickbed. Bruce should’ve changed his supplier. In The Incomparable Fighter, Bruce was quoted as telling Uyehara that you notice everything more sharply with marijuana. Bruce opened up about being near-sighted to Joe Hyams (as typed in a 1979 book titled Zen in the Martial Arts).

Lee also revealed that he wore contact lenses since he couldn’t see an opponent at a far distance. Contrast this with Clouse, who was hard of hearing. Yin-Yang symbolism! Chuck Norris, in Against All Odds (a memoir which is his sixth book), had alluded to Lee’s steroid experimentation being known among his peers. Richard Ng (吳耀漢) had described Lee in his final month, July, as being strung out. Ng mimed by doing a syringe motion to his arm.

You should ruminate for a bit that Lee only fell sick in H.K. and not in the U.S. as would be expected from a man who was always excessive. His first collapse is puzzling. He almost dies and comes to the U.S. for a check-up by the doctor of Paul Heller (the literal middle man in the below photos). The top doctor of neurology at U.C.L.A. finds no cause for Lee almost passing in the previous fortnight. Bob Wall laments in the impartial I Am Bruce Lee documentary that M.R.I. scans weren’t commonplace back then.

If you go into a coma, almost die, get very sick, have pale skin, slur like you’ve had a stroke, you come back to the States to be checked out by a top doctor, have numerous tests on top of that, and there is nothing found, then that means something is happening to you in the other place where you live. Think about it if the cause of himself passing out and almost passing away is inherent then, for sure, they would’ve found something wrong at the top clinic.

The cause of death might as well have been asbestos (Brittany Murphy also met her maker by this at the age of 32). David Tadman (the mind behind I Am Bruce Lee) was lucky enough to have interviewed two policemen who were on the force at that time. They say that it was a cover-up. Furthermore, Mang Hoi (孟海), Sammo Hung (洪金寶), Yuen Wah (元華), Peter Chan Lung (陳龍) and many others will privately tell you that foul play was afoot. Lam Ching-Ying didn’t have to go on the lam because he kept his cards close due to the Triads having as much influence in H.K. as Jews in Hollywood.

When Bruce was pronounced dead, Linda asked Betty if she could back up the story that he died at home. The next day, Linda had his stuntmen over for a banquet to celebrate his life. One man, Billy Chan Wui-Ngai (陳會毅), recalled that the guys were gossiping about how he was slain. She reprimanded in a hysterical tone – If I do not want to know how he really died, then why should you?

Bruce’s oldest brother, Peter, had a sneaking suspicion about Ngan (a childhood pal and butler that had his own family live with Bruce at his final home). Bruce’s assets were in Ngan’s name (Bruce was a tax scammer), so the latter received a large sum of money from Linda’s lawyer to sort this out after Bruce died. He quickly returned to England. In 1976, two insurance companies only paid half because they were unable to obtain a copy of the autopsy report, not because of what it included but because what was missing pointed to something much more.

Lee had bruises on his face which were consistent with someone who had been attacked. His forehead appears to be branded by an iron which was then used to singe his left eyebrow so that onlookers got the hint from the angle. The left side of his neck was swollen – a target of intense intent. The bottom of his neck looks slashed and pierced (scary discoloration). His H.K. coffin photos show that his neck was covered in a weird way.

Nancy Kwan (who Lee choreographed for The Wrecking Crew) had a friend in the police force who oversaw the investigation, and he claims that there was one shoe missing. This made some believe that Lee was taken to Betty’s apartment with one shoe. The message was wait until the other shoe drops. Basically, the police were told that he died in Betty’s bedroom whereas the press were told that he died at Linda’s house. Betty initially distanced herself from it by claiming that she was shopping with her mother during the dragon’s demise.

I suspect that there was domestic abuse which could only be resolved by gangsters suppressing him, otherwise he could easily oppress a martial artist. Ed Khmara (writer) and Jason Scott Lee wanted Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story to be the Chinese answer to Raging Bull, but the powers that be forbade that. In 1976, Betty married an actor/gangster named Charles Heung (向華強). Another such guy was a friend of Bruce named Michael Chan Wai-Man (陳惠敏), who spoke of how the police and crooks of the `70s were interchangeable.

Before Bruce left H.K. at the age of 18, he had unwittingly beaten up the lowlife son of a high-ranking police officer (according to Richard Bustillo). It’s been reported that Michael Chan Wai-Man was the one who told Ray Chow that Bruce was dead. Ray allegedly asked who else met their ends. Michael was a high-ranking member of the 14K Triad, who are the main rival of the Sun Yee On (whose chief deputy happened to be threatened by Bruce as noted in a timeline that I will post later).

Even George Lee (a Jeet Kune Do student) claimed that, in June `73, Bruce admitted that H.K. was getting nasty and he wanted out. Ted Thomas (a dubbing artist who knew Bruce) confirmed that Triads were a thorn in Bruce’s side (as mentioned in the Bruce Lee Conversations book). James DeMile (one of Bruce’s first students) was so convinced that Bruce had been murdered that he mounted an investigation. He came to the conclusion that he was poisoned by people who he antagonized in the H.K. film industry.

Death by chronic cyanide poisoning is difficult to detect and can be confused for a natural death. I will quote James Coburn’s observation from his final encounter with Bruce (as quoted in The Bruce Lee Story by his widow and Tom Bleecker): “Towards the end of his life, Bruce seemed to be carrying a great weight – something bad set in. He was being hit on all sides by everybody…and he had to have his guard up all the time.”


How Bruce Lee Worked

Bruce Lee may have introduced more Westerners to Asian culture than any person in history. And, because he died young just as he became an international superstar, he’s become a legend. Josh and Chuck try to uncover the man underneath.
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That's real banking for real life and real business. Visit Sandy's brain bank dot com slash real member FDIC. Welcome to Stuff You Should Know. A production of I Heart Radio. Hey, and welcome to the podcast, I'm Josh Clark, there's Charles W. Bryant, there's Jerry Rollan, and this is stuff you should know. I couldn't think of any non problematic nicknames for us to use. Well, you could probably just go here.

That's what I'm talking about. Is that probably for you? That I'm sure. Yes. We would probably hear about. Oh, man.

That's you watch any great kung fu movie. And they all make that great, great sound after a good death punch.

Did you ever take kung fu when you were young or any kind of martial arts? No, I'm notoriously have zero interest in martial arts. And my biggest fear is that my daughter is going to want to do it. I. Oh, really? Well, I mean, will you tell her to sweep the leg at a tournament and share it? Yeah, sure. I mean, I want to like to be able to protect yourself. So that sounds like a very selfish thing.

But as far as like go into martial arts tournaments, kind of like just, you know, kill me now what you should get her interested in, like wielding a knife or something.

Or just being a good person so people don't pick fights with her. Yeah, is that how things work? No, not at all. So I'll tell you, somebody who likes to pick fights, not just would get into fights and accept the challenge, but actually pick fights. Mm hmm. And it turns out that person also happens to be the person we're talking about today. One Mr. Bruce Lee.

Yeah, Bruce Lee. I mean, I'm sure like me, you spent the past couple of days watching a lot of Bruce Lee stuff. But my question is, were you into this?

Did you watch Kung Fu movies and Bruce Lee movies only in so far as like the whole 90s, like throwback thing?

You know, I would have them on everyone's wall and watch them, but I was never super into my friends. They were super into them. I remember, of course, I underwent extensive ninja training under Sensei Tommy Roper as a much younger person.

This is in the 80s, but I was never really into kung fu or martial arts movies.

I will say, though, watching Fists of Fury last night, I was just absolutely blown away like a Japanese thing.

Yeah, the whole thing's I think black belt karate dotcom pirated the movie and put it on YouTube, the whole thing. And it is just really good. Like the fighting in there is astounding and it gives you like a really good appreciation. It's hard not to appreciate what you're seeing with Bruce Lee when you when you watch it.

Yeah, I have still not seen many of those movies, but for a movie Crash episode one of my guest, Stuart Wellington of the Flophouse podcast, one of my favorite other podcasts on movies, he had me watch his favorite movie, which is Ricky O.

Colon, The Story of Ricky. And Dude, you have to see this movie, OK?

It is the gory, over-the-top, crazy martial arts movie to beat all over the top gory, crazy martial arts movies. It is.

When was nuts. When was it made it. Well, 91, but it seems like seventy eight. It's it's amazing.

Is there a shot where some guy jams his fingers into his opponent's testicles and then they cut to a view from inside his scrotum and you see the fingers wiggling? Does that happen because I saw a martial arts movie that had that and I was like, well, there it is. No, but I don't thing I've ever seen. It's got a lot of stuff like that. But I don't think that was from Rocchio. But it's OK. You're on the right track there as far as OK.

You know, it's not for everybody. I got to check it out, man. It's pretty fun. You have me. You're on the right track there. Yeah. So Bruce Lee movies were not nearly as violent, but for the time they were they were exceedingly violent. It seems like Bruce Lee laid the foundation that people said, well, I want to top that. I want to top that. And while maybe Gore, there was plenty of like blood in fists of fury, at least in other movies that he made, but it wasn't anything like what we just heard about.

But the I think the larger point for Bruce Lee is that he he laid this foundation like he introduced the United States in the West to the idea of not just kung fu movies, but of like Asians being heroes, like like protagonists like like tough, you know, because up to that point, not necessarily exactly up to that point, but awfully close to it, especially in the West. The people from China, Japan seemed very docile, cerebral.

I saw not at all like Bruce Lee and Bruce Lee changed all of that basically single handedly, especially as far as America is concerned.

Yeah, with a single one inch punch, basically.

So let's talk a little bit about his early life, because he had a pretty interesting background, pretty interesting genetic family tree, because, you know, we all think of him as Chinese. And he was certainly he certainly was Chinese.

But if you if you poke around his lineage and you will learn that his maternal great grandfather was Dutch Jewish, which is really interesting. He was a merchant. His name was Moses with a Z Hartog Bowsman, and he went to Hong Kong in the 1850 as part of the Dutch East India Company, became the Dutch ambassador to Hong Kong, had six kids with his concubine, and then one of those kids, one of his sons, Hokum Tong. He became a very rich man.

He had a wife, 13 concubines and a British mistress, and then he had a daughter with a British mistress, and that was Bruce Lee's mom.

Yeah, this is more convenient. This is. Yeah. Yeah.

So Bruce Lee was part Jewish, part British and lots of Chinese mixed together. His father was 100 percent Chinese, Han Chinese, and his father was born poor.

But he actually worked his way up to a fairly sizable celebrity in Hong Kong.

Or was it China? I don't remember if if Bruce Lee if Bruce Lee's father lived in Hong Kong or China.

Well, it's kind of both. He was a Cantonese opera star and an actor. And then I think eventually they did settle in Hong Kong.

OK, all right. So it but he was like very well known, like he was in movies. He was on TV like he was a pretty famous guy. He was probably I would like him to, uh.

Who Jerry Orbach, he was the Jerry Orbach of his time and place. Jerry Orbach, singer. No, but he was like everywhere he was in everything from dirty dancing to murder, she wrote, you know, like he was all over the place. And he was multitalented, too. OK, don't try to tell me Jerry Orbach is not multitalented because he is sure.

But he was no opera star. You don't know that. You're right. You're right. I could be I could be a martial arts expert. Jerry Orbach could be an opera star. All right. We can be whatever we want to be in our mind's eye.

But so Bruce Lee's father was the Jerry Orbach of his time and place. That's right.

So he was touring the US when Bruce was born. He was born in San Francisco in 1940, and his parents named him Lesin Fon. And apparently a nurse said you should call him Bruce for his English name.

What what did he say exactly?

Did you hear what we named them originally? Yeah, she's like, yeah, Bruce Lee's You can find Bruce. They moved back to Hong Kong when he was a baby and he grew up there, but he grew up with going to English schools, English language, private schools. Yeah.

So he always kind of had this this I want to say split identity. But his his identity, his sense of self was definitely divided between America and I believe the UK to an extent, and also obviously Hong Kong. And then of course, his ancestry in China, like he he seemed to have not necessarily like felt spread all over the place, but in in a different sense, he was more open to influences wherever he found them. I saw somebody somebody say that Bruce Lee learn from everybody, everyone that he came in contact with, including people who he had to fight, who fought of different styles.

He he was always open to learning something. He didn't. He was very cocky. He was very arrogant by a lot of people's estimations. But he also was humble enough to want to learn wherever he he thought he could learn something new. And I think that that according at least to a guy named Matthew Poly, who's known as one of his better biographers, that that really kind of underscored that, that his personality just kind of being divided among different places around the world and having different influences.

Yeah. So we'll take a little break here and we'll come back and talk about some of the early formative years of young Bruce Lee right after this trial.

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All right, so little Bruce was born not only in the Year of the Dragon, but the day of the Dragon, and his nickname was Little Dragon when he became a child actor.

If you only know Bruce Lee from his martial arts work is kind of short career in martial arts films.

He he was actually on screen as a baby, but his real first kind of role was, I think, when he was like 10 years old. Yeah, he was in a movie called The Kid. Yeah, which I watched some clips of this. I'm sure you did, too. It's you know, it's cute little Bruce Lee. He does. He kind of threw a lot of child abuse in it. Was it really? Yeah.

He's like he offers he has some money, so he offers to help his uncle out and his uncle just basically deafens him in one year.

Well, yeah, I didn't see that clip.

I would call that child abuse check now for two. I didn't see that clip. You're like, yeah, well, I guess if that's your definition of child, then no, not at all. I just didn't see that one. I just saw the one where he was going to. Did that famous Bruce Lee sort of, you know, thumb across the nose and throw a little shirt open.

I know that's crazy that like, he was that young, ten years old and he's already, like, laying the groundwork for the things that were going to make him famous in the future. Yeah.

And he was a little guy. He I think he you know, as a as a full grown adult, he he reached five seven, about one hundred and thirty pounds. He was not very big when he was a kid. He was very small. He was fairly weak because of food rations, because Hong Kong was occupied by imperial Japan at the time and they were rationing food out. There was a cholera epidemic. He had one leg shorter than the other.

He had an undescended testicle which actually ended up keeping him out of Vietnam. So I didn't know that little bit of a silver lining there. He had glasses. He had acne.

I think his biographer said that he and this is the only person I really saw say that he said he'd probably be diagnosed with ADHD today.

I looked for other places to find that no one, I don't think is on record as saying that. But it did seem like that could be possible because he was very active, had trouble with focus, but could also hyper focus.

And like, you know, like you said, you kind of pick fights with people because he was a little kid. And that's a lot of times little kids will do that if they want to. You know, they want to prove that they're strong and have value. They'll pick fights and try and beat people up. Not not the way to do it, though, kids.

No, but I mean, like like he was well known in Hong Kong as being like this kind of local tough who would start fights infrequently won them, but sometimes would lose them too. But there was one fight in particular that he lost around the age of 15 or 16 to a kid who had been studying kung fu style called Wing Chun. Yeah, Wing Chun. And that is where his famous, like one inch punch comes from. That style of fighting.

It's really good for close quarters type fighting where your opponent's right in front of you and coming at you. Wing Chun very good for that. So that was the kind of dude that Bruce Lee was even back when he was a little hot shot. Fifteen year old. He lost the fight to somebody and he wanted to know how that person had beat him. So he went and learned it and that actually formed the basis for his his formal education in martial arts was entering into the Wing Chun school age fifteen.

Yeah. And I looked a little more into Wang Chung to see what it was kind of all about. And apparently there's two sort of main tenants, which is the center line theory, and then stand and guard in the center line theory is basically you draw a line from the center of your body to your opponent's body and that is the quickest route to strike.

So if you've got someone coming at you, like, you know, if you go throw a punch, like American boxing style, like a haymaker, you're going up and around toward the jaw to the side of the jaw.

If you're practicing Wing Chun, you're standing right in front of that person. And as you're throwing your haymaker, you've gotten a very quick straight punch to your solar plexus.

Right. And you like what just happened.

That is basically the essence of Bruce Lee's style. Super Lightning Fast would take advantage of you while you thought you were about to strike him. He used that against you.

Whatever floor there was in what you were doing to to hit or kick him or come at him, he would he would take advantage of it and hit you within that time. And like, if you watch any of his movies, you can see it quite clearly. But he'd been working on that. I didn't realize that that was necessarily Wing Chun. I thought that was his own style. But it would make sense because again, that was Wing Chun is the is the the foundation for his style of kung fu that he ended up coming up with.

So like we said, his dad was fairly famous. Bruce is in the Jerry Orbach level famous. Don't forget Bruce is in this movie when he was ten years old called The Kid. That was a big success. And then they said, hey, let's sign this kid up to do some sequels. And his dad said, no, no, no, no, no, my kid's not going to be an actor. He's going to be a doctor or a lawyer or something like that.

And he's always in trouble in school. So I'm not going to let him be in sign this. Entourage, he ended up being in some movies kind of off and on, I think he ended up being in about 20 different movies that before his kung fu movie days. But it was never like he never turned into the big kid star that they were trying to get him to be with that first contract, I think. Yeah.

Apparently he would have been had his father not directly intervened to make sure that didn't happen, which is pretty interesting. But was 10.

He can't sign a contract without Daddy saying so and mommy saying so.

Well, yeah, you definitely need to have your parents support like that for sure. But so his father, like, stepped in and said, no, you're going to you're going to do something else. And that was at age 10. I don't know.

I think at least 18 at the latest. But at some point, he had kind of gotten like like I said, he had a reputation as like a local tough street fighter in Hong Kong. And I guess he fought another kid and beat him quite badly. And the kid turned out to be the son of a local mob boss.

I don't know if he was a boxer or movie connected mob guy, but a member of the Triad. It does sound like a movie. And that between that and the Hong Kong police basically saying, like, look, your kid is totally on our radar and it's a real problem and he's going to end up in jail or dead if he keeps this stuff up. And by the way, the local the local mob now wants to kill him because he beat up one of the one of the bosses sons.

His father said, you're out of here, you're going to America, which again, this wasn't like a complete out of the blue police to send Bruce Lee. This is the land that he was born. He was he had an American passport. He was American by birth. And he also had family there, too. But this is the first time that he was living on his own. From what I saw, his father gave him eight hundred dollars, which is pretty substantial back then said here are the addresses of some family in the Pacific Northwest head on out to San Francisco.

And he started in San Francisco and ended up in Seattle pretty quickly, I believe.

Yeah, Seattle in the in college, he went to UW and he you know, that money obviously would run out. So he had to get a job. He worked as a busboy in a Chinese restaurant, actually lived in the restaurant and kind of a closet type of deal.

And everyone started hearing about his his martial arts skills and the fact that he was pretty good at this stuff. So he started teaching a little bit on the side in that Wing Chun style, and he met Linda there who would go on to be his wife. She was a fellow student of his. Linda got pregnant and they got married. They were very young. They were still in college and they had little Brandon Lee. Well, we'll talk about him later on.

And then a daughter named Shannon. Yeah.

So all of a sudden, Bruce Lee, who is a busboy at a Chinese restaurant and also teaching kung fu on the side, has a family, a wife, kid thing, kids. And he's got he needs money now more than he ever did before. And he has a pretty good idea. He's going to start opening a franchise of martial arts studios because martial arts was already known in the United States.

But typically it was kept within the whatever Asian community that practiced it. Right. So, like, if it was kung fu, you would find almost entirely Chinese people learning it, you know, immigrants to the country or the children of immigrants. It taekwando it would be like Korean families. And Bruce Lee said, you know, I want to kind of explode that. There's a lot of talk about whether he was the first person in the United States to come along and open up martial arts to anybody who wanted to learn of any race and ethnicity.

Women, men. From what I saw, it's not necessarily true. But that is often credited as is evidence of just kind of how cocky and unconventional and disrespectful, I guess, of norms and traditions just for the fact, you know, or just for norms and traditions sake. And I don't know if he was the first person to teach just anybody who wanted to learn. But it definitely fell within his persona, his outlook of martial arts, which is, you know, I'll take I'll learn whatever I can and put it in to my fighting style so that I survive.

And that would make sense to kind of flip it up on the other way and say, well, you know, I'm going to teach this fighting so that whoever wants to learn it.

Yeah. And it turns out it was just as he ended up learning Wing Chun because of a fight he had early on. He also expanded his fighting style because of another fight, which sounds like it. I mean, I think there are a lot of legends and tall tales around Lee as well. This story, the story sounds a little dubious, but maybe it's true. It is. It's not dubious. It definitely happened.

But it was closed to the public and there were only three eyewitnesses there. And two one gives a conflicting report from the other two to a large degree. But it's been so thoroughly studied and researched by some people like that. Matthew Pawlick, I spent a year just researching this fight alone. There is another guy named Charles Russo who wrote a book called Striking Distance. He spent a decade on that book and he interviewed 100 people just for that for that fight alone, because it's one of the most legendary fights that's ever happened in the history of the world.

And only three people were there to see it besides the fighters.

Yeah, they interviewed 100 people about what they heard, what happened, basically. Yeah. I mean, that's as close as they could get aside from the people who were there who were again saying, you know, this is kind of conflicting. But overall, what seems to be the the ultimate upshot of it is that it was at least a draw. It seems like it was a draw.

Yeah, he thought a man named Wong Jack man. And apparently it was a pretty brutal fight, like you were saying. Very legendary.

And, yeah, conflicting reports. Let's just call it a draw.

Let's be magnanimous here. But at the end of this, you know, the sort of upshot is it was that Bruce was like, I have limits now with Wing Chun and I need to.

Like, I need to be able to to best larger opponents, because I'm a small guy, I need to I need to really kind of ramp up my study if especially if I'm a teacher and and kind of get better, basically. So he came up with his own jam, and that's called Geat Kundu, the way of the intercepting fist. And this was a little bit he was a really, really good boxer. I don't think we've mentioned that yet.

If he had only Boxer and dedicated himself to being a boxer, he probably could have been like a belt holding boxer and like an Olympic champion. So he incorporated elements of boxing. He incorporated all the wing Chun that he had learned and then fencing, which his older brother did, which is, you know, when you're lunging at your opponent, but instead of a foil, he would use his fist.

And if you you know, I mentioned the one inch punch earlier, there was also the six inch punch. There's tons and tons of videos and breakdowns of what that is. But that's what he was really famous for, which is basically and then Tarantino kind of, you know, borrowed for the kill bill movies.

You know, you put your fingers on like the sternum of of a human. And that's how far you punch from like you don't rare back in swing or anything. You just use your hips and your legs and you focus your energy and all your momentum to just very, very quickly punch and push somebody. And and even from one inch, you can knock somebody backwards, like seven feet or so.

And that's super helpful if you can do that. But what that one fight with Wong Jack man taught him Wong Jack man kept moving away from him. And if you're fighting, style is entirely about fighting in close quarters with your opponent coming at you. If your opponent is getting away from you, you're just kind of up the creek and that's what really kind of opened his eyes. They needed to expand it. And so like you said, he incorporated boxing and incorporated fencing.

He also realized that he needed grappling to he didn't have any grappling moves. And apparently that came into focus when he was on set for a TV show that he would end up being on for a season called The Green Hornet.

Yeah, she'll talk about in a second. And apparently on the set of the Green Hornet, he would he was he became quickly known for actually beating up the stunt doubles rather than, you know, pulling his punch and just, you know, not making contact or just barely making contact. He was punching these guys and kicking these guys. And they apparently brought in a ringer named Judo Jean Lobell, who was a very tough stunt man, a two time judoka champion, and brought him in as a stuntman.

In the first day on the set, he picked up Bruce Lee out of nowhere, put him in a fireman, carry like on his shoulder. And Bruce Lee had he couldn't do anything. He was just so mad. But there was nothing he could do to get out of this. And he realized he needed to incorporate grappling. And he ended up training with Gene LaBelle for a year and expanded his fighting style even further. And that firemen carry that meeting.

That fight basically on the set of the Green Hornet is what Quentin Tarantino was recreating in that movie Once upon a Time in Hollywood, when Cliff Robertson, Brad Pitt fights Bruce Lee on the soundstage in the parking lot.

And a lot of people were very upset because he took tremendous liberties with that fight. But it was based on this kernel of history that had a much better outcome than than what what Quentin Tarantino showed.

Yeah. Cliff Booth, by the way, Cliff Robertson.

Cliff was a real actor, was what I thought was the basis for Metallica. Now, that was somebody else, I think.

OK, yeah. I mean, Tarantino, we should kind of talk about that for a sec because he was taken to task by a lot of people, certainly people from Bruce Lee's own family for that scene. And they were like, this is not what Bruce Lee was like. His daughter especially was like, this is not what my dad was like. He was not cocky. He was not arrogant. He was confident and he was a good teacher.

But, you know, Tarantino then fired back in some interviews like he was arrogant and cocky. He was known as this guy. And apparently the people closest to him said he wasn't at all. This is a misconception by white people. And Tarantino took a lot of grief and sort of argued back. And then she finally, in an interview in Variety magazine was like, he should just kind of shut up about this. Yeah. And say I'm making fictionalized movies and not purport to know what my dad was like.

When it's coming from the daughter, it seems like you should probably just shut up for sure. Probably so. And we'll probably get an email from her too, because you said he was cocky and arrogant. Yeah, right.

Yeah. I was thinking back to that flashing back.

And one I guess one thing I saw to kind of that gives weight to the idea that he had a certain amount of arrogance or cockiness or I can understand how some people would take him that way or portray him that way, is he was well known for going around publicly insulting established martial arts schools like one of the first things he did, or he made a name for himself among the martial arts community, especially in the Bay Area that some people say led to that fight between him and Wong Jack man was to insult basically every established martial arts school in America and say that these were they were taught by old tigers with no teeth, basically, if they were misguided and that were they were just wrong and that his way was the right way.

And it wasn't that he had it out for, like the old establishment just because they were the old establishment. But what he had decided with GQ know is that. It was it didn't make any sense to train and train and train to know exactly where your feet are going to go and exactly where to put your fists or that kind of thing, because all that stuff dissolves in a real fight and sort of Bruce Lee in his fighting style. The whole point is to survive the fight.

And so you use whatever you can get your hands on, whatever technique, whatever style is going to work. And that really doesn't jibe with the idea of an established, rigid school. So he certainly ran afoul of of some of the established martial art groups. And I think that that has kind of contributed to this idea that he was cocky in real life.

I'm not his daughter, so I certainly can't say. But, you know, that's that's what I was basing my interpretation on. Yeah.

My read is that he was a business person and that he was trying to make some money because his idea was that he wanted to open up a chain of kung fu schools.

He goes back to L.A. to give a demonstration at a karate tournament to try and, you know, make a little headway there with maybe getting investors or getting people interested. And it worked. He met a TV producer there, and that is how he got the role on the Green Hornet, which, like he said, ran for a single season. And he stayed in Hollywood, though, and he really got the acting bug. I think he was in a few kind of smaller parts over the next few years.

He played Winslow Wong in the movie Marleau in 1969. And then he, like you mentioned, kind of at the beginning, it was he was trying to do something that didn't exist yet, which was become an Asian and at least an Asian-American hero, because they just didn't do that. They were like, you can play this kind of role. You're probably going to come in as the bad guy or something. You're going to show off some of your kung fu skills, but you're not going to be the star of the movie.

And he said, all right, I'll hang around here. I'll start making a ton of money teaching the Hollywood elite my fighting style and ended up making some really, really close friends, notably James Coburn and Steve McQueen ended up being two of his closest friends over the years until his death. There were pallbearers to. Yeah, along with.

Chuck Norris, of course, yeah, he was a pallbearer, I also saw Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate were two of his students, too.

Yeah, Roman Polanski tried to. Sleep with him now, he brusquely lost his glasses.

Roman Polanski found some glasses like his at the murder scene, and Roman Polanski was very suspicious of that and apparently went so far as to take Bruce Lee to get a prescription made to replace the glasses that were broken and then wanted to get his hands on that prescription and compare them. And apparently they didn't match. So he, you know, he backed off.

He suspected Bruce Lee in the Manson family murders. He or the Tate La Bianca.

I don't want to I don't want to put any words in Roman Polanski's mouth, but I'm telling you what happened, which is that he found these glasses and had them checked out.

Wow. That's a Hollywood nugget, Chuck, that you just put that jewel in the crown right there.

Well, I didn't discover it. I mean, I just read it. Yeah, but I mean. I mean, it's well known. OK, well, whatever.

You can wear the crowd around me and I'll just be like, totally earned. He got really into health and fitness. This was a time in the nineteen sixties kind of before the big exercise and weight lifting boom and stuff that happened. He was, he was eating protein shakes and lifting weights kind of before a lot of people were. And, you know, he wanted to get his body in the best shape possible. And if you've ever seen Bruce Lee's body and he, you know, he did exactly that.

Yeah. Mission accomplished for sure. And I mean, again, he was a little guy, like he weighed 130 pounds, but he was just as lean as they come and totally chiseled like he he was very, very strong for his his size and stature and just lightning fast, too. But none of this was amounting to anything as far as his film career is concerned. He was going quite far as a martial artist, martial arts instructor for sure.

But clearly, he I don't know if his he felt like his calling was always, you know, the movies or TV. I think so. Or something like that. OK, well, then that would explain it. I had the impression that, you know, he just knew that that was something he could do, which he apparently was starting to accumulate some debt. And at one point to keep his to keep his chain of of martial arts studios open, he decided to go to Hong Kong and do some acting rather quickly and pick up some some fast money.

So I didn't know if he considered that like a step toward stardom or if that was just he knew he could go make some money acting and come back and pour it back into the studios to keep them open.

Do you know I mean, I think the studios were making his living, but I think since he was 10 years old, he was bitten by the acting bug, which is why he went on to be in 20 more movies over the next eight years.

Yeah, true. And I think that was as true. Like, I think the Kung Fu studios in my reading was the means to get to where he wanted to be, which was a big Hollywood superstar.

Well, that actually worked that trip.

Like I was saying, he was just going for some money to keep the studios, has his studios afloat or open, but it turned out to be the greatest move that any actor has ever undertaken, just going to Hong Kong and trying to pick up some parts and and martial arts films. And that's exactly what he did. And he blew up as a result.

That's right. So let's take our final break here and then we'll come back and wrap it up and spank it on the bottom right up to this.

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Uh. All right, so Bruce Lee goes to Hong Kong to make some movies, make a little dough, and he goes to Hong Kong and finds a two picture movie deal with Golden Harvest Studios and signs on for his first movie, a little movie called The Big Boss, which originally in the United States was called Fist of Fury. A little confusing because then there was a movie called Fist of Fury that also had an alternate title.

What's that? The Chinese connection. But the big boss, a.k.a. in America at first Officer Fury or Fists of Fury, was his first sort of foray into those movies. And it was a big, big hit.

It was it's hard to explain what happened that that first movie, The Big Boss, came out and basically made Bruce Lee an overnight sensation in Asia. As far as martial arts is concerned, not just Hong Kong, Asia, he just became an absolute superstar. The big boss shattered the box office record. The previous Hong Kong box office record was held by The Sound of Music, and it had be something like maybe 100000 Hong Kong dollars. The big boss made something like four times that in its box office run.

And then as more Bruce Lee movies came out over the next couple of years, each one shattered the record of the previous Bruce Lee movie. So when something like that happens, you know, you have something once in a lifetime basically on your hands. And he was right smack dab in the in the middle of that once in a lifetime thing. Yeah. And not only were these movies making a lot of money, they were really cheap to make, which was like he was like the golden boy, because I think Fist of Fury, the the second movie cost about one hundred thousand dollars to make and made 100 million.

I think the the way of the Dragon made one hundred and thirty million and cost about one hundred and thirty thousand. So he was making like huge, huge money. I mean not personally, but the studios were making huge money on very little investment. And the thing with Bruce Lee was he was like you said, he was selling these fights better than anyone ever had and his speed was really the key to it. And a lot of if you watch a lot of older kung fu movies and it looks like the action is sped up, it's because it is they would speed up the camera or actually slow down the camera to make the action appear faster to make it more exciting.

But Bruce Lee was so naturally fast, they had to tell him to slow down just so the camera could record stuff accurately. So they there are a few legends that grew up around his speed, one speed and strength, one that he could steal a dime off of your hand. Like if you're holding it in the palm of your hand before you could just close your hand. He could catch a rice grain you would throw at him with chopsticks. And these are all, you know, maybe true or not.

But that's what these legends, what you would use chopsticks to throw a rice grain. And then I know you would throw a rice grain at him and he would catch it with chopsticks. That's way more impressive.

So and then the last one was that he could he could punch a hole through a can of Coke with his finger.

Wow. And I hope these are true because they're so great. Well, if they're not true, that's OK. Like, you're not the first person to fall for some of the exaggerations. Like I saw Matthew Pauly was kind of not called out, but somebody made mention of the fact that this is one of his top biographers, like one of the best biographers of Bruce Lee, still said, you know, somebody got punched and they flew back six feet in the air.

And it's almost certainly not correct. Six feet is probably an exaggeration. But the fact that things like that get repeated and like like smart people like say like this, like this is what he was capable of, like it at the very least goes to underscore his abilities, that they were so mind boggling that this is it's possible that that's true. You know what I mean? Yeah. It's not like, oh, that's ridiculous.

It's like, no, this is Bruce Lee we're talking about.

I think I can explain the six feet thing. If he's it might be an exaggeration that someone literally didn't touch the ground for six feet. But if you look at demonstrations of his of the one finger punch, he can knock someone back six to eight feet very easily until they can, like, regain their composure. Like people are flying back six feet, but not necessarily not touching the ground in between. You know what I mean?

I think this was, quote, flying through the air. Yeah, it sounds like the air. A little writer's flourish. Yeah, maybe.

But I mean, again, it comes like people are like, oh, that's cool. It's crazy because we're talking about Bursley. If, like my biographer said that everyone want be like, stop. Well, well, you've got a biographer I question, I will eventually, I assume, but people would be like I question everything that's in this book now with firstly it's like, yeah, I totally buy that, you know?

So Bruce Lee is made a name for himself now. He is drive around in sports cars. He's wearing fur coats. He is a big, big pothead, which is something that. Yeah, I forgot about that you don't hear about a lot, but apparently after Carl Sagan. Right. Yeah, but after Bruce Lee's training sessions, he would he apparently had this wooden box just full of joints, also smoked hash and got really into the sort of hippie lifestyle, kind of grew his hair long for a little while.

And I think it was wrapped up in this Hollywood hippie thing of the time. Understandable. Yeah. And his career's going along great. And it all culminates with a movie called Enter the Dragon in 1973.

Big movie. Yeah, it was a huge movie. I think he wrote and directed that one. And I think the first one he wrote and directed was Wave the Dragon. But like by this time on his third movie, he was now writing and directing it and certainly by his fourth one, he wrote and directed it. I saw that the Way of the Dragon, a quarter of the script was just a couple of like just a couple of fight scenes.

Choreography took up like a quarter of the script. And it was this was the one that put him on the map as an overnight sensation in the United States, in the West, like the other two. The first two or three. Yes, first three had made him an overnight sensation in Asia. This is the one that taught America what a kung fu movie was because we hadn't heard of it before. And now all of a sudden we couldn't get enough of Bruce Lee.

Unfortunately, Bruce Lee had died a month before. And one of the great ironic tragedies as far as like Hollywood stardom goes, yeah, only 32 years old.

If you look at Bruce Lee death, there's a lot of different stories and theories out there. He was he had a mistress at the time named Betty eating pie. And apparently he had been on and this is the way Chuck Norris told it to.

Apparently, he had been on back medication for a while because of a back injury.

So pain meds for his back came home to his apartment in Hong Kong with his mistress. Mistress complained of a headache. She gave him, I think, a different kind of pain reliever, although Chuck Norris said it was a.

What's I'm blanking now, what's the thing you take to fight an infection and antibiotic antibiotic, which I think he just misspoke because that wouldn't make any sense, but that's what Chuck Norris said. So it took another pain reliever, went down for a nap and died, never woke up. He you know, there are all kinds of speculation about what happened. It seems like it was just a reaction of these medications. Yeah. Some people say, including the biographer, it was also had to do with heat stroke because it had one 10 weeks before, right?

Yeah. And he also a few months before he died, had he used to be very embarrassed about his underarm sweat. So he had the sweat glands removed from his underarms. What?

And so apparently they said that could have contributed to the you know, his body wasn't shedding sweat like it should, and that could have led to a heat stroke.

I had not heard that before that that definitely crosses a couple of Ts that I hadn't otherwise seen.

Maybe, but I think it was like 10 weeks before he died. He collapsed when he was dubbing a movie in a room without air conditioning. It was really hot. Got that heat stroke. And some people are saying this all contributed with these medications to a brain edema.

Yeah, but again, I mean, the fact that he died mysteriously, this guy who's like one of the fittest people on the planet just dies after saying he has a headache and lines down, he wakes up. That's just conspiracy theory fodder for I'm sure it's still going on today. Like apparently that he had a break with the director low away, who directed the first two Bruce Lee films, the first two kung fu films he was in. He pulled the knife on him because the guy, the director had been taunting him and Bruce Lee was there is a legend that, like Lo-, we had had him assassinated by ninja or something like that.

But the upshot of it is, however, he died. He died like a month before he became like world famous and he still world famous today. Like everyone knows, Bruce Lee, one of the most famous people to ever live, and he died a month before that happened, which is, you know, you say that and you read it and you think it it just doesn't quite sink in. And when it does, you're like, that is astounding that that happened.

Just the timing of all of that. Yeah.

And then, you know, many years later, his son, Brandon Lee, would die very tragically on the set of a film because of an accident with a a blank bullet actually shooting a slug out of a gun on set of of the crow, right? Yeah.

Yeah. I think he was twenty eight and his father had died when he was 32. So a lot of people are like, well, there's clearly the Lee family's curse. Right.

Which is nonsense. Yeah. I think she's a tragedy. You should probably just shut up about that. Probably so.

But one of the things that it's hard to overstate, like the cultural legacy that he left, like he introduced the West to a completely different concept of Asian people are like like, oh, they can actually be like stars, action heroes. Like they're not like, you know, valets or servants or whatever. Like it just completely altered Americans understanding of Asian people. Like, it's really hard to understate that. And then the other thing, too, is, you know, we were kind of talking about whether he was, you know, whether he was an actor or a martial artist.

And a lot of people are like, would is Bruce Lee would he actually was a really good fighter or was he like a movie fighter, like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal, who, like in a real life fight would just be what was, you know, and because Bruce Lee died at such a young age, like there's there's not this we don't know or a lot of people don't know.

But if you talk to the people who trained with him, who worked with him, we were there who actually physically interacted with him, like it seems like completely understandable that he was, as everything you saw in film, he could do for real in real life. And you would never have wanted to fight Bruce Lee. So he wasn't just a fake movie martial artist. He was the real deal. And in a lot of ways largely self-taught, which makes him all the more impressive.

You got anything else about Mr. Bruce Lee, Chuck and got nothing else? Maybe watch the classic 1982 farcical comedy.

They call me Bruce. Oh, yeah, OK, I will check that out. One more thing there, his death, his untimely death led to a whole genre of movies called Bruce Flotation, which was basically fake Bruce Lee movies that trying to cash in on his fame.

Yeah, I think he hit a movie or another movie release after his that through Disney that they compiled like footage and stuff for I believe they were filming it when he died and they didn't release it for another five years.

Game of Death. Yeah. One where he fights Kareem.

That's that's fun to watch, actually. And Chuck Norris is in it to Game of Death.

Yeah. That that fight with Kareem was pretty awesome because to see a man that tall B that lived in that quick was very impressive.

And he was one of Bruce Lee's like genuine students. Yeah. One of his long time students. And he credits Bruce Lee with his his longevity in the NBA totes.

Yeah. So if you want to know more about Bruce Lee, just go out and start watching movies and videos and demonstrations of Bruce Lee. There's a lot worse things you can do with your time and thank us later. And since I said thank you, Slaters, time for listener mail.

Yeah, I'm going to call this return of Noah from Scotland and pretty sure I read this on the air, but I told Noah to write in once a year.

Um, and here's the follow up, because, you know, Sarah, the amazing eleven year old fan, is now probably in college and has long since forgotten about us.

So we miss Sarah. We've been ghosted. We've had been costed years ago.

But this is our new friend, Noah. Hey, it's me, Noah from Scotland.

Uh, you told me to write in once a year. So this is my annual letter. In case you don't remember me, I've been listening since I was four and writing you a letter every year since I was five. I still live in Scotland and for most of the last year my mom's been home schooling me because of the coronavirus. So I was great. But when I'm doing my own topics, I can choose them based on your episodes.

Nice. My favorite was space weather because I didn't know there was weather in space and my favorite fact that I found out was the most powerful northern lights can generate over one trillion watts of power, which is, I think, about three hundred million solar panels.

It was a hard sum, but I think it's right if you're asking us about math and we're just going to say, yes, you got it right.

You just ran a circle around.

I don't want to be an engineer any more. By the way. I really like chemistry now. I think the periodic table is interesting and I want to find a way to stop global warming using science. Me and this kid, I love it. I've asked for your book for my ninth birthday in May and I hope to get it because I think it'll be interesting. I'm glad you're still podcasting Love from Noah. And this was sent through his mom's Rachel's email, of course, as always.

And she added a very sweet note as well. So much love to the to Noah's family there. Yeah.

Thank you very much, Rachel. And knowing the whole fam for writing to us from beloved Scotland, keep us updated. No, we're pretty. Your progress is just fascinating.

Yes, we love it. And happy early birthday too, from Josh and Chuck. If you want to get in touch with us, like nowadays, you can give it your best shot. You can send us an email, send it to Stuff podcast and I heart radio dotcom.

Stuff you should know is a production of I Heart Radio for more podcasts, my heart radio is at the radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.


New Book Claims To Have Solved Mystery Of Bruce Lee's Death, Says He Died Of Heat Stroke

Martial Arts icon Bruce Lee died unexpectedly at the age of 32 in 1973 and his death has been a mystery sparking many theories. In a new book, Matthew Polly claims that Lee may have died from heat stroke.

The biographer and journalist consulted several medical experts to draw his conclusions about the cause of death, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Due to his physical fitness and healthy lifestyle, conspiracy theorists have suggested that Lee was poisoned by his distractors.

Bruce Lee's official cause of death is attributed to cerebral edema due to an adverse reaction to a drug called Equagesic, which contains aspirin and a tranquilizer meprobamate.

However, the actor and martial artist collapsed and almost died about two months before his death due to cerebral edema but did not take the drug at the time.

Polly told the Australian newspaper that Bruce Lee may have increased the likelihood of heat stroke by having his sweat glands removed.

The journalist notes that Bruce Lee's work rate and the weather on the day of his death were contributing factors.

The Mayo Clinic notes that heat stroke can cause the brain to swell and lists exertion in hot weather as a risk factor.

Lee died in the apartment of Taiwanese actress Betty Ting, who offered him Equagestic after he complained about a headache.

In an LA Times article in 1998, Bruce Lee's widow Linda Lee Cadwell said the cause of Lee's death was attributed to hypersensitivity to one of the ingredients the drug he took.

Cadwell wrote that a "nine-day coroner's inquest" and many forensic pathologists who studied Lee's body testified to the conclusion.

Heat-related deaths are common among athletes who are young and fit. Bruce Lee is considered an MMA pioneer well ahead of his time. His philosophy has inspired MMA star Conor McGregor and others.


2 An NBA Player Suddenly Vanished In Uganda

If you sift through a catalog of every single unexplained disappearance over the last few decades, you'll run into a decent number of basketball players. Did you know a Harlem Globetrotter vanished while driving on the highway, possibly abandoning his car and then just walking into the woods, never to be seen again? Or do you remember that time Chicago Bulls center Bison Dele vanished in Tahiti, and we never did find out for sure if his brother killed him and his girlfriend on a boat?

But today we're going to talk about John Brisker, a forward for the Seattle SuperSonics in the '70s. Brisker was famous for being ejected from games repeatedly, which earned him the nickname "the heavyweight champion of the ABA" -- the ABA being a basketball league that ended up being absorbed into the NBA in 1976. Brisker was absorbed into the NBA with the rest of the league, and he kept living up to his reputation, once having to be dragged off the court by police. Another time he was arrested for fighting four cops. Teammates said he'd carry a gun when he walked to the arena. That doesn't sound super sportsmanlike.

Then in 1978, after telling friends that he planned to go to Africa, he traveled to Uganda. No one ever heard from him again. In his hometown, word was that he'd ended up somewhere pretty far from Uganda: Guyana, where the Reverend Jim Jones had set up a thriving community that ended with the deaths of most involved. Brisker's family denied these rumors. True, Brisker had a great aunt in Jonestown, one who was eventually shot to death there, and she'd tried to recruit him, but he didn't seem the sort to go in for that sort of thing.

Instead, his family said he really had gone to Uganda to be a celebrity basketball pal to warlord Idi Amin. The State Department and the FBI looked into it and tried to find exactly what Brisker had done there, but they weren't able to figure anything out. Part of the problem was that in 1979, Amin was overthrown. Not only did this leave his records a mess, but it also led to the strongest theory about what became of Brisker: Revolutionaries executed him. So the lesson here is that if you must cozy up to a mass-murdering dictator, don't. Just, like, don't.

Related: NBA Games Are Gonna Be Weird


Coming to America and Developing His Philosophy

In 1959, the decision was made to send Bruce to America to make a better life, and possibly to put an end to the brawling. At the University of Washington, Bruce Lee studied dramatic arts, psychology, and philosophy among other subjects.

Contrary to popular belief, according to a university alumni publication, Bruce’s official major was drama – not philosophy. Nevertheless, Bruce Lee was very passionate about the latter, and is only now recognized for his many philosophical writings. He was also a prolific reader, with an extensive personal library that informed many of his own ideas and musings.

One of the books that was most influential for Bruce was the Tao Te Ching – which also went on to inspire many other schools of thought including Buddhism, Confucianism, Legalism, and others. It is one of the most translated works in history.

A central concept of the Tao Te Ching and one that struck a particular chord with Bruce, is that of ‘Wu Wei’ or ‘non-action’. This is essentially spontaneity and flow – going ‘with nature’ and not overthinking. Not only would this influence Bruce’s personality (which was also very informed by the 60s), but also the development of his martial arts – which were all about reactive, instinctual movement taking the shortest and most uncomplicated route possible to the target.

This is something that truly set Bruce Lee apart as a man and as an artist. Bruce Lee used his personal philosophy to inform everything from his decisions in life, to his movements. By having guiding principles that he expressed even through his art, he was able to accomplish a kind of holistic unison through everything he did. In that way, you can argue he found a ‘life purpose’, he believed 100% in everything he did because it was all born out of his own interpretation of the best way to live.

If you haven’t given thought to your own personal philosophy, this is something that is very much worth doing. What do you believe is the purpose of existence? The best way to live? Your role in the world? And how does your work and your behavior align with that?

Around this same time, Bruce Lee would meet his future wife, Linda Lee Cadwell – also a student at the college – who he married in August 1964. They went on to have two children: Brandon and Shannon Lee in 1965 and 1969 respectively.


Bruce Lee: A Deeper Look at the Legend

An interview with the writer of a new biography exploring the actor and spiritual adventurer who popularised martial arts in the West and became an icon.

Bruce Lee became a worldwide phenomenon a month after his death on July 20, 1973. His last film and biggest box office hit, Enter the Dragon, was released internationally less than four weeks after he died in Hong Kong at the age of 32. In those three decades, Lee accomplished more than most do in much longer life spans. He popularized kung fu in the West created his own style that eventually led to the birth of mixed martial arts and took action flick fight scenes from clumpy brawls to fluid fight sequences. Most of all, Lee inspired generations of young men and women who took up kung fu and gained not only physical skills but mental strength.

Author Matthew Polly was one of those inspired as a child by Lee. In his early 20s, Polly, now 47, took a leave of absence from Princeton University to study kung fu with Shaolin monks in Henan, China. He recounted that experience in American Shaolin. A few years later, he delved into the world of MMA in Tapped Out. Polly followed up those books with the release of Bruce Lee: A Life, a definitive biography of the actor. Polly worked on the book for six years, interviewing more than 100 people who knew Lee. The minutely researched tome is a mesmerizing portrait of Lee, which conveys the very human side of a man whose reputation seems almost superhuman.

The Book of Man spoke to Polly about Lee’s formidable kung fu skills, the spiritual philosophies that became the backbone of his success and Polly’s theory about what really killed Lee.

Why did you want to write about Bruce Lee?

Bruce Lee was my childhood hero. I saw Enter the Dragon when I was a skinny, bullied 12-year-old and he jumped off the screen into my imagination. And it inspired me to take up the martial arts. I went to China to a Shaolin temple to study kung fu. Bruce Lee changed my life for the better.

Why is Bruce Lee still relevant today?

I think Bruce Lee is an inspiration for millions of people who took up the martial arts and found a deeper spiritual awareness and also an inner strength through that. He was more than just a movie star. He was also a missionary who introduced more people to Taoism and Eastern philosophy than probably anybody else that ever lived. For that cultural impact I think Bruce Lee still has a place.

How do you think he’s still remembered? Does he get proper credit for introducing the Western world to Eastern philosophies?

I don’t think he does. The Chinese have a saying, “When you drink the water, remember who dug the well”. And Bruce built the well and I think people have forgotten in a certain way that it was him who inspired this movement. So I wanted to write the first authoritative biography of Bruce Lee to remind people of that.

Do you think he doesn’t get his proper due because he was this good-looking, glamorous figure with almost magical powers of kung fu? The stereotype is that someone that physically spectacular and can’t also be spiritual.

That’s right. I think there are a few things that happened. One, the kung fu movies that followed Bruce Lee’s were pretty schlocky. So kung fu movies got a reputation as being lowbrow, a step above porn and one below horror. And it tainted everything associated with Bruce in that sense. I think there’s another fact, which is that East Asian males are ignored in Western culture. Except for Bruce, and then it took 25 years for Jackie Chan to become a star, there aren’t very many, if any, leading Asian male characters in our culture. And you touched on something important, the third thing, which is Bruce did have a glamorous life. He was a movie star, he was very good-looking and on film he seemed invincible and so not that many people except his real fans understand the aspect of his life, which was the spiritual journey he was on.

What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about him?

Certainly that he was invincible. He nearly died of cholera when he was a baby. When he was growing up, he couldn’t walk properly until he was four. He was skinny and scrawny. One leg was shorter than the other. He was near-sighted. He was not someone who you would think would be considered when he got older the deadliest man on earth. You wouldn’t have predicted that. And he struggled intensely when he got to Hollywood in his quest to become the first Chinese-American male to ever star in a Hollywood movie. What I tried to describe in the book was just how much he faced and how hard it was for him to do it. And capture the sense of the indomitable will that made him who he was. He wasn’t naturally a great fighter. He was quick and he could pick up movements but [it was] through sheer effort that he made himself who he was.

How many hours a day did he workout?

He did about four. On some days, it would be two. But yeah he would train about four, five hours a day… He is the sort of patron saint to that work out, work harder and find yourself [ethos]. What I think is interesting about him is his library had 2,500 books. He was deeply into philosophy. He would annotate books by [René] Descartes and [David] Hume as well as Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and he talked about philosophy all the time to the point where some of his friends would tune him out [laughs].

It seems he became calmer and more focused after he started following the philosophy behind kung fu, Taoism.

I think when he was younger this was a way of dealing with his own psychological needs. It’s like, “Physician, heal thyself”. He was a fire element by all accounts. He had a short temper, he was hyperactive—his nickname was Never Sit Still. So “Be water, my friend” [Lee’s famous quote] was almost a way for him to balance out the other half of himself. He married a woman who was very much a water, calming influence. I think Bruce when he was speaking to other people he was also speaking to himself.

What were you most surprised to learn about him?

One, that he was a terrible driver [laughs]. You think of him as being somewhat perfect, right? From the movies you’ve seen, he never misses a kick. But people would say, “God, he scared me when I drove with him”. Yet he never got into a major accident. And the other one was, what I really wanted to do was put Bruce Lee in the context of the era he lived in because I think his image floats in the air unmoored from any place and time. One aspect that really struck me was the degree in which he was an actor in 1960s Hollywood and he became a bit of a hippie. He was into the self-help movement he smoked a little pot he hung out with Steve McQueen. He really had a way of adapting to whatever culture he was in. He bounced around from Hong Kong to Hollywood and he had to live in very different places and fit in in different times.

Do you think America also helped bring out the best in him because the culture at the time inspired him to read self-help books and explore philosophies outside of China and the East?

Yes, I think that’s what his great contribution is: He was the first person to bridge the two cultures in such a major way and become such a star and such an influencer. He had an American sense of individualism. His philosophy was really an attack against living under tradition and accepting what you were taught and having to live it. He had an anti-establishment view of authority. That was very much American 1960s youth culture. But at the same time he had this long Chinese tradition so he didn’t reject tradition fully but he thought you should question it.

What can people learn from his commitment to his craft?

Bruce Lee believed that becoming great in the thing that you do was a way to spiritually advance. His art form was his religion. And martial arts was his way of getting in touch with himself. That I think is a crucial lesson. The second thing that really impressed me was realizing when you’re a kid they say you can be anything that you want to be and you get older and realize that’s not true [laughs]. But Bruce Lee proves that every once in a while it can be true. He set out with an impossible dream to conquer Hollywood and even his closest friends like [screenwriter and producer] Stirling Silliphant said to him, “Bruce it’s never going to happen. You’re an Asian guy in a white man’s world”. And he proved everyone wrong.

He was almost always optimistic in the face of setbacks. What can people learn from that outlook?

I think you’re more likely to gain success if you believe you can than if you already start off pessimistic. Bruce Lee’s view was the world around him was already pessimistic enough and it was his job to bend it to his will. When his project The Silent Flute was going down in flames he was still telling people “it’s going to turn around” [laughs]. And I was reading it going like, “Is he delusional?” But that was his way. It was always like, “This is going to work out. Don’t worry, we’re going to do this.” And then a couple of years later, he turned out to be right. The project arrived. I’ve always believed that the universe is flexible and if you want something badly enough you can bend it a little bit to your will. And Bruce exemplifies that.

Bruce was a troubled youth who like many troubled young men turned to violence to feel validated and confident. What would Bruce say to troubled young men today?

It’s very crucial to point out that his fiery temper got him into a lot of trouble. He was essentially banished from Hong Kong because the police were going to arrest him if he didn’t stop fighting and he couldn’t stop fighting. And so his parents had to send him away. I think he really felt that the martial arts was a way to contain that kind of violence and rage. I’ve often joked that kung fu is China’s version of Ritalin. It’s a way to take hyperactive boys and give them a framework in discipline. Not tell them that they can’t do anything aggressive but they have to do it within this context. Like within this room, under consent, with supervision, you can let out these feelings and emotions and aggression. You can see as Bruce gets older he doesn’t ever quite master this unbelievable temper that he has but it gets better over time. I think that’s what he would say to the youth: “If you stick with the discipline this aggression will be contained and can be controlled and you can make something of your life”. He would tell friends, “If I had stayed in Hong Kong and hadn’t made a change, I would’ve ended up dead or in jail”.

I think if he was living today he would’ve morphed into some sort of self-development guru.

I think that’s absolutely true [laughs]. I joked once that he would’ve been on Oprah a lot [laughs]. And he would’ve been all over Twitter. He liked short aphorisms and he very much thought of himself as a writer. He did one small book and he never quite got a second book finished in time. But I’m certain he’d have written books like Zen and My Personal Development and then he would’ve gone on all the talk shows talking about this. I think given his troubled youth he would’ve been involved in those types of charities as he got older and more established.

How important was he to the history of kung fu, both the art itself and its practice around the world?

He’s a crucial figure in both. The sport of mixed martial arts, the cage fighting, Conor McGregor, that never would’ve happened if he hadn’t created the martial arts craze in the early 1970s. Before him there were like a handful of schools, particularly in England. And then after him there were over 20 million martial arts students in the U.S. In England there were millions more. Also his philosophy of taking what works and discarding what doesn’t became what mixed martial arts is, which is we’re going to figure out which things work for us and we’re going to test it in the cage and then discard this and take that and be very practical. Prior to Bruce, it was, “my master taught me this, and his master taught him that” so it was very conservative. That philosophical change of approach is almost totally billed to Bruce Lee. He put the mixed in the mixed martial arts. And then almost no one knew the word kung fu. So he was the popularizer who brought it to the West and made it part of it and he also created in Western culture the kung fu master. So you can’t have Jackie Chan or Jet Li without Bruce Lee. And the way I thought about it was if you watch movies from the 1960s there’s some big barrel-chested white guy who punches this long haymaker punch and that’s the whole fight scene. After Bruce Lee every scene the guys are kicking and they’re punching and they’re throwing elbows. He put martial arts into the center of Western culture and changed the way we thought about moviemaking and action movies particularly.

What’s the main takeaway you’d like readers to learn from his life?

I think the most important lesson is that Bruce Lee was a troubled youth. He said himself my elders disapproved of me. And yet he was able to take that rebellious energy that he had and push it into a context that allowed him to succeed. His brother became a brilliant scientist but he was the person who did what he was supposed to do. And you had to be a rebel to think that you could be the first Chinese-American to star in a Hollywood movie. So the things that his elders thought were flaws as a teenager is what allowed him to succeed. He just needed to find a way to channel that energy. I think for young men who are troubled that he’s an inspiration because if you can find the right avenue for that rebellious energy you can create something amazing.

What can older men take from him?

I think Bruce’s view that continual practice of an art, whichever art that is, is a way to find your way spiritual center. For him that was the marital arts, for someone else it could be gardening or archery. It doesn’t matter what it is. But he took that from the Zen tradition, this idea that becoming a master at a particular activity is a way to find peace and calm. That’s something that I’ve certainly felt with my life.

There was a lot of controversy around how he passed away. Can you touch on that?

Sure, so he died in another woman’s bed and they tried to cover that up to protect the family, protect his reputation and also protect the movie, Enter the Dragon that he had coming out. When the press discovered the deception it turned into a ripe scandal and the Hong Kong press was very much like the British tabloids are now. They went wild. People started speculating on what might have killed him and the problem was the experts couldn’t agree on what might have caused his death. When there was no expert agreement then anything goes, right? And for years it was like it was ninjas, it was the kung fu death touch. They had a coroner’s inquest and their conclusion was it was an allergic reaction to aspirin but there were no symptoms of that. It seems like they pulled that out of thin air. I spent a lot of time talking to medical experts trying to suss out what was the most likely scenario. There’s no way to know for certain and my conclusion is I think it was heat stroke. [The day he died] was the hottest day of the summer. He had lost weight and wasn’t sleeping, which both increase the likelihood. The final data point that I was like, “Why hadn’t no one thought about this before?” was he had the sweat glands under his armpits surgically removed about two months before. He was on screen sweating everywhere and he got sick of being toweled off between every take.

You mentioned he was found in another woman’s bed. That is one thing that doesn’t make sense. He claimed to be so spiritual and he wouldn’t accept kung fu students unless he thought they were of an upstanding moral character. And yet he was often cheating on Linda.

And this is why this part of his story always gets written out. Because people can’t make sense of it and so when you read every other Bruce Lee book they just delete this section as if it didn’t happen. Even if it doesn’t make sense it has to be part of the story. And I was surprised when I was interviewing some of these women. The thing that struck me and was hard for me to get my head around because I grew up in a very conservative Catholic family in the Midwest is that he grew up in a culture that did not believe in monogamy. His grandfather had 13 concubines, his father had his half-sister out of wedlock with another woman. And then he got to Hollywood in the Swinging ’60s and everybody…. he has a line that I put in the book where people ask him about bad behavior in Hollywood and he said, “Look I’m not as bad as some of them, but I’m not saying I’m a saint either”. So he knew he wasn’t living up to the highest standards, but it was very much of that time. That was hard for me to accept but I had to finally realize… he loved his wife, he didn’t want to hurt her feelings so he kept it quiet. But he didn’t view what he was doing as morally wrong.

Actress Sharon Farel, whom he had an affair with, said he was the best lover she had. I wonder if that had to do with his kung fu skills, if it translated in the bedroom too?

She said that because he was a dancer and he just knew how to move. I was blushing during that interview [laughs]. I was like, “oh, he’s the best lover you ever had… you know this recorder is on?” But yes, I do think he had a great sense of timing and rhythm and physicality because of his dancing and his martial arts and he was very connected to mind, body, spirit.

What one Bruce Lee movie would you recommend everyone watch?

Well the easy answer to that is Enter the Dragon, but I won’t recommend that because everyone has either watched it or they don’t care about Bruce Lee [laughs]. The movie I think is interesting to watch is The Orphan that he made in 1960. He was a child actor, which many people don’t know. This was the last of 20 Cantonese films that he made. He modeled it after James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause. It’s the most interesting, complex acting performance he gave in his career. And it gives you a sense of another part of his personality. Because we only think of him as the kung fu star, to see him play a troubled youth in a drama gives you a sense of his range.



Comments:

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