In the entertainment world the term legend is used sparingly and only for those performers who were unique in their talent and character. Such was that of actor and athlete Bruce Lee.
Born Lee Jun Fan on November 27th 1940 (the Year of the Dragon), in San Francisco's Chinatown, his father, a performer in the Cantonese Opera Company, was touring the United States at the time. After the tour Lee's family returned to Hong Kong where the boy grew up performing in over twenty Asian films, from the age of six to his
During this time, young Lee trained as a
dancer and took up Gung Fu training under
Sifu Yip Man. At both martial arts and
dancing he excelled.
In 1959 Lee took advantage of his American
citizenship and returned to the United States.
He entered the University of Washington in
1961 majoring in Philosophy and to make
ends meet he taught Gung Fu to the students
at the school. His classes became so popular
that he opened his first Jun Fan Gung Fu
Institute in Seattle in 1961.
Lee faced a great amount of pressure from the Asian community in teaching this martial art form to non-Asians and asked to prove his skill in demonstrations around the country. From one of these exhibitions, he caught the eye of a Hollywood producer who was seeking an Asian actor to portray Kato in his new television series, "The Green Hornet".
Although the show only lasted a year, Lee opened two additional Gung Fu schools in which he personally trained celebrities like; Steve McQueen, James Colburn, Lee marvin, James Garner and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Restless and settling for bit parts as token Asians in films, Bruce traveled with his family back to Hong Kong to discover he was a superstar in China. His character Kato was huge in Asia and its popularity gave Bruce his first taste of major acceptance by a mass audience.
He was approached by a Hong Kong producer to make a movie and was given creative control of his character and fight choreography. He accepted. "Fists of Fury" one of the first Gung Fu movies staring Bruce Lee went on to be a worldwide success and established him as a box office phenomenon.
Bruce Lee went on to make only four more films, each topping the other in stunts and effects. On July 20, 1973 Lee died suddenly from what doctors said was cerebral edema (swelling of the brain). His death was where a man's life ended and a legend began.
Since his death, Bruce Lee has become a worldwide icon. Revered and even lionized. His books still are printed and sold and his movies are as popular as ever.