Bruce Lee

On this date in 1940, Lee Jun-Fan, better known by his English name, Bruce Lee, was born in San Francisco, Calif., while his parents were on tour with the Chinese Opera. Lee was raised in Hong Kong, where he studied martial arts and worked as a child actor. When he was 18, he immigrated to the United States and claimed his U.S. citizenship. He first worked as a dance instructor, then received his high school equivalency diploma and went on to study philosophy and drama at the University of Washington. Lee opened his first martial arts school, where he taught the traditional Chinese gung fu method. Lee eventually married one of his students, Linda Emery. He also taught martial arts to movie stars, and made his big break into acting with the role of Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet” (1966-67). Lee guest starred on several TV shows and acted in the films “Fists of Fury” (1971) and “The Chinese Connection” (1972).

Although Lee never received his degree in philosophy, his interest in the subject continued throughout his life. Lee sought to “infuse the spirit of philosophy into martial arts” (“Me and Jeet Kune Do,” reprinted in Words of the Dragon, ed. John Little). He developed a new style of gung fu, which he called Jeet Kune Do. Lee often expressed his distaste for the formalization of martial arts styles, and worked towards creating an effective fighting technique. Lee was raised by a Catholic mother and a Buddhist father, and was not personally religious.

Lee and his wife Linda had two children: Brandon, born in 1965, and Shannon, born in 1969. On May 20, 1973, Lee collapsed and complained of a headache; he died later that day, of complications from painkillers that had been administered to treat his earlier symptoms. D. 1973.

“When asked by journalist Alex Ben Block in the summer of 1972 what his religious affiliation was, Lee answered: ‘None whatsoever.’ Block then pressed him further, asking him if he then believed in God: ‘To be perfectly frank, I really do not.’ ”

—John Little, The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; Photo by Neftali,

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