Bruce Lee was born on the 27th November 1940 (the Chinese year of the Dragon) in the city of San Fancisco sometime between the hours of 6AM and 8AM. Bruce was the third child of his parents Lee Hou-Cheun and his mother Gracie Lee.
At birth, he was given the name Lee Jun Fan (which means "Return Again") by his parents. Shortly before leaving the hospital, a nurse suggested that it might be a good idea to give the child an English Christian name to avoid any complications with his American birth certificate. The nurse suggested the name Bruce Lee, and the newborn's parents agreed.
After the family's return to Hong Kong, Bruce's father found work as an actor. Often, young Bruce would accompany his father to film shoots and eventually, through his father's connections, he was given a role in a film The Beginning of a Boy. He was only 6 years old. Many other Child roles would follow. By the time he was 18, he had appeared in over 20 films, the most famous of which being The Orphan.
But like many other Hong Kong Chinese kids, Bruce Lee spent much of his early years on the streets as a self confessed trouble-maker. During this period of his life, Bruce often found himself involved in street fights. Sometimes he would arm himself with a toilet chain, though more often than not he would just use his fists and feet.
Bruce complained to his parents that he was being bullied. He asked if they would allow him to take Kung Fu lessons as a means of learning to defend himself from the bullies. His parents agreed to pay for Kung Fu lessons from Yip Man, a grand master of the Wing Chun style. For several years Bruce attended Yip Man's school of Wing Chun, rapidly growing in proficiency.
When Bruce Lee was 14 years old he enrolled for dancing lessons and later went on to become the Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. But with every passing year Lee's focus on the martial arts grew more intense. Around the age of 18 Lee started to form his own ideas about what made an effective martial arts style. But Lee's parents feared for the safety of their son and decided to send Bruce away from Hong Kong out of harm's way.
Bruce returned to San Francisco to finish school. He earned his high school diploma and in the autumn of 1962, he enrolled at the University of Washington, seeking a degree in Philosophy. During his time at school, Bruce started to teach kung fu. In 1963 he opened the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle. He would also meet his future wife Linda at the University.
By June 1964 Lee decided to give up his studies and moved to Oakland, California to open a second school of martial arts. Bruce and Linda were married on the 17th August 1964.
In 1965, Bruce and Linda celebrated the birth of their son Brandon. Sadly, his father died just one week following Brandon's birth. Filled with despair, Bruce considered abandoning teaching martial arts as a living when he received a phone call from television producer William Dozier. Dozier had seen some footage of Bruce in action and wanted to ask Bruce if he would be interested in playing the role of the "Number One Son" in a television adaptation of Charlie Chan. Bruce expressed his interest and soon drove to Hollywood for an audition. Though the reaction was positive, the Charlie Chan idea soon died.
But Dozier soon started work on a new project, a television series called the Green Hornet, a show which would utilize the same kind of format as the already hugely successful Batman series. Bruce was to play the part of Kato, the chauffeur and sidekick to the lead hero, Britt Reid. The Lees moved to Los Angeles in March 1966 and Green Hornet went into production that summer.
Green Hornet was canceled after only 26 episodes. But Bruce had left his mark on Hollywood. Now a martial arts celebrity, Bruce would often make personal appearances at karate demonstrations, film conventions and parades. He made appearances on television shows like Longstreet, Ironside and Blondie. Then came his appearance in the 1969 movie Marlowe. This was Bruce Lee's first appearance in a Hollywood feature length film and though his role was minor, he stole the screen from lead actor James Garner.
Bruce was now giving private martial arts lessons to Hollywood stars such as Steve McQueen and James Coburn. Also receiving instruction from Bruce Lee at this time were Karate champions Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and Mike Stone. Between them, Norris, Lewis and Stone would go on to win every major Karate tournament in the USA.
In 1970 Bruce suffered a massive back injury during a weight lifting session. The injury was so severe, that doctors informed Lee that he had to stay hospitalized for 6 months or risk being paralized. And that he would never be able to practice the martial arts again. Barely able to move, Bruce stayed at home looking after Brandon and new baby daughter Shannon while Linda worked. Depressed and wanting to give up, Linda suggested that Bruce focus his energy on his mind. He began an intensive academic self study on martial arts. Eventually his notes filled eight, two-inch thick notebooks and years later these notes would be edited by Linda and published as "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do".
Bruce Lee was a strong believer in the power of the mind and refused to accept that he would be disabled for life. Against doctor's orders, he slowly and gradually reintroduced his body to the stresses of training again. Within a year Bruce had regained all that he had lost, and more. However, off screen and in private he would suffer extreme chronic back pain for the rest of his life.
Having recovered, Bruce focused everthing on his career. He was determined to be a major star and introduce the eastern art of Kung fu to the rest of the world through film and television. He began working on an idea for a television series about a Shaolin monk who roamed the Old American West in search of knowledge and adventure. Warner Brothers liked the idea and developed it into the major hit series Kung Fu, however, to Bruce's intense disappointment, the starring role was given to actor David Carradine, a non-asian and non-martial artist. ABC had decided that to use Bruce Lee for the lead role would be too risky, Bruce being too Asian looking and too small a name.
Still reeling from the disappointment of losing the role in Kung Fu, Bruce took a fleeting visit to Hong Kong in 1971 and found, to his complete surprise, that he had become a well known and admired superstar there. Green Hornet had been renamed The Kato Show and was one of the most watched television shows in South East Asia. To capitalize on that, many of the films Bruce had appeared in as a child were being screened over and over again in cinemas throughout Hong Kong.
Bruce returned to Los Angeles, but immediately received an offer from Hong Kong film producer Raymond Chow to star in two Chinese martial arts feature films. Chow offered to pay Lee $15,000 for the two films. In July 1971, Bruce arrived in the remote Tai village of Pak Chong for the shooting of his first film for Raymond Chow, The Big Boss.
Bruce Lee had finally arrived.Paramount studios retained Bruce for three episodes of Longstreet. Warner Brothers, who had previously dumped Bruce Lee's film project The Silent Flute, and had given the lead role in Kung Fu to Carradine, wanted to place Bruce Lee under television option for $25,000. Hong Kong producer Run Run Shaw made weekly overtures to woo Bruce away from Raymond Chow, even sending him a blank check and telling him to fill it in for any amount he desired. With his life bombarded with offers and counter offers, Bruce flew back to Hong Kong with Linda, Brandon and Shannon for the premiere of The Big Boss.
The film was the biggest event to hit Hong Kong cinema. To the people of Hong Kong, Bruce Lee was suddenly more than just a film star- he was a symbol of their identity and a real life hero.
Lee's next film, Fists of Fury, broke box-office records across all of South East Asia. This brought Bruce the incredible power of creating his own production company, writing the script to his next film, Way Of The Dragon, and directing the film himself.
Way Of The Dragon grossed more money than any Hong Kong film before it. Warner Brothers agreed to pay Bruce $500,000 for the shooting of a martial arts film entitled Blood and Steel. Retitled Enter the Dragon, this major motion pictured is still considered by many to be the greatest martial arts film ever made.
During post production on the film, Lee collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, where he was given a drug. No cause was found, even after an exam back in the states.
Bruce continued post production on Enter The Dragon and then resumed work on another of his own projects, Game of Death, which he had started filming just prior to "Dragon". While discussing the script of Game of Death with Raymond Chow at the apartment of Taiwanese actress Betty Ting-Pei, Lee developed a severe headache. Ting-Pei gave Bruce a tablet of Equagesic, a strong asprin based tablet prescribed to her by her doctor, and he went to a bedroom to lay down.
Raymond Chow telephoned the flat to find out why Bruce had not turned up for their planned dinner. Betty Ting-Pei said she could not wake Bruce. Chow rushed to the apartment and found Lee in a coma. A doctor was called, arrived almost immediately and spent ten minutes trying to revive Bruce Lee. By 10 o'clock an ambulance had arrived and Lee was rushed to the hospital.
There were two funeral ceremonies. The first was in Hong Kong, where there was a traditional Buddhist service. Outside the Kowloon funeral parlour a croud of 25,000 fans wept. The second ceremony was a more private affair, held in Seattle where Bruce and Linda had met and where Lee had perhaps been at his happiest. Bruce Lee's body was buried in the city's Lake View Cemetery. He was laid to rest wearing the traditional Chinese outfit he had worn in Enter the Dragon. The final tribute was spoken by close friend and fellow actor James Coburn.
Days after Lee's body had been laid to rest, Enter the Dragon had its premiere in Hollywood. The film was an instant hit in the USA and soon took the rest of the world by storm. The worldwide theatrical gross for Enter the Dragon is two hundred million dollars, an unheard of amount for the day, making Enter the Dragon one of the most profitable films of all time and certainly the most successful martial arts film of all time. Perhaps more importantly however, it helped to make Bruce Lee a legendary, semi-mythical hero who is admired and respected by many millions of people across the world.