Bruce Lee

On this date in 1940, philosopher and martial artist Lee Jun-Fan, better known by his English name Bruce Lee, was born in San Francisco 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. He was raised by a Catholic mother and a Buddhist father and was not personally religious. When he was 18 he emigrated to the U.S to study drama and philosophy at the University of Washington-Seattle, eventually becoming a citizen.

Lee opened his first martial arts school, where he taught the traditional Chinese gung fu method. Lee married one of his students, Linda Emery, in 1964. His big break into acting came with the role of Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet” (1966-67). Five feature-length martial arts films followed: “The Big Boss” (1971), “Fist of Fury” (1972), “The Way of the Dragon” (1972), “Enter the Dragon” (1973) and “The Game of Death” (1978).

Although he never received his degree in philosophy, his interest in the subject continued throughout his life and he wrote extensively about it while seeking to “infuse the spirit of philosophy into martial arts.” (Lee’s essay “Me and Jeet Kune Do,” reprinted in Words of the Dragon, ed. John Little, 1997.) He combined influences from various schools into his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).  Lee was named by Time magazine in 1999 as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Lee and his wife had two children: Brandon, born in 1965, and Shannon, born in 1969. Brandon died in 1993 during filming of “The Crow” when another actor fired blank ammunition at him “which in turn propelled into Mr. Lee’s abdomen a lethal obstruction that had been lodged in the barrel of the gun during the filming of another scene several weeks earlier,” according to Linda Lee’s lawsuit.

He died at age 32 in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973, of cerebral edema, which he had been treated for in May. An autopsy determined pain medication for a headache fatally exacerbated the condition, a determination that was contested by others. Biographer Matthew Polly wrote in 2018 that Lee had had his underarm sweat glands removed in 1972 because he thought underarm sweat was unphotogenic and that heat stroke during workouts may have contributed to the cerebral edema. He was buried in Seattle. (D. 1973)

PHOTO: Lee in 1971 during filming of “The Big Boss.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation