The Bruce Lee Story

The Bruce Lee Story

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee Hong Kong Film
Bruce Lee Hong Kong Film
Bruce Lee as Baby
Bruce Lee as Baby

On the morning of November 27, 1940, in the Chinese year of the Dragon, Lee Jun Fan was born in San Francisco. His mother, Grace, had not planned on an American name, and his father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, was performing a popular Chinese opera in New York. So it was one of the Hospital employee who thought of the name Bruce. The mother concurred and from then on it was Bruce Lee. A legend was born. When Bruce was three months old, the family returned to Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong film career of Bruce Lee began when he was only six years old. The director of his father’s latest film saw him on the set and was so impressed that he offered him a part in his father’s film. This was the beginning, leading to over twenty motion picture roles and steadily increasing popularity among Hong Kong audiences.

Yip Man and Bruce Lee
Yip Man and Bruce Lee

As a teenager Bruce Lee began to get into more and more fights for no apparent reason. If he didn’t win the fight, he was furious. Bruce started training in the martial arts mainly to overcome his fear of being humiliated in a street fight. As a result, Bruce became a proficient martial artist, not to mention a feared street fighter under the tutelage of  the great master Yip Man in Wing Chun (meaning “beautiful springtime”). However, Bruce actually had more than one teacher. As time went by, Bruce grew. His enthusiasm towards martial arts was more apparent. He was young, energetic and competitive. He easily mastered Wing-chun’s  basic Kung Fu, and since he was very clever, Mr Yip loved him and taught him many of the secret techniques of Wing Chun. Bruce eventually became an expert in Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Bruce Lee Dancing
Bruce Lee Dancing

When Bruce Lee was about fourteen, he discovered that “dancing” could be a great deal of fun. He had a real knack for it and rapidly became quite polished, never lacking eager partners. Much of the balance and footwork became evident in his later fighting style. His favorite was the Cha Cha, and he spent many hours practicing extremely complex dance routines. He eventually became the Hong Kong Cha Cha Champion.

Bruce Lee Teen
Bruce Lee Teen

Bruce Lee in the USA
At the age of 18, Bruce was becoming more and more involved in street fighting. So in 1958 his parents decide to send him to live with friends in the United States. There he would finish high school. While he was staying in Seattle, Bruce was allowed to live in the restaurant’s attic in exchange for his services as a busboy and waiter. Bruce finished high school and went on to college. By day he attended the University of Washington and nights he was working in the restaurant. After a few months of this, he decided that this lifestyle was not for him. He quit his job at the restaurant and began teaching Kung-fu. At the age of twenty-two, Bruce authored an extremely unique text which he titled CHINESE GUNG-FU: The Philosophical Art of SELF-DEFENSE. This book reflected his preoccupation with spiritual as well as physical development.

Bruce Lee and Family
Bruce Lee and Family

Before Bruce finished his Bachelor Degree in Philosophy, he meet Linda Emery, a pretty blonde coed, enrolled in his class and in 1964 they were married. Shortly afterward, they moved to California. In 1965, Bruce’s son, Brandon, was born. A couple of years later his daughter Shannon was born.




Bruce Lee Baby
1940 – November 27 – San Francisco- In the The Year of the Dragon between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. (the hour of the dragon), Lee Jun Fan, Bruce Lee is born at the Jackson Street Hospital in San Francisco Chinatown while his father and mother traveled to the U.S. Lee Hoi Chuen, Bruce’s father, was performing with the Cantonese Opera Company in America. At three months old, Bruce debuts in “Golden Gate Girl” in San Francisco, CA. He plays role of a female baby, carried by his father.

1941 (Age 3 Months): Hong Kong – Bruce and his parents return to Kowloon, their family home. They move to into an apartment at 218 Nathan Road, Kowloon district. The apartment is located on the second story of a building which contained a store on the ground level.

Bruce Lee in The Kid
Bruce Lee in The Kid

1946 (Age 6): Hong Kong – Bruce makes his first major childhood movie in The Beginning of a Boy. Later this year, he performs in The Birth of Mankind, and My Son, Ah Cheun. (During the later years of his childhood, Bruce appears in 20 more films in Asia. In these films, Bruce’s vivid facial expressions begin to develop, and they foreshadow his future expressions in his famous Kung-Fu movies. Bruce becomes nearsighted and starts wearing glasses. (He will later start wearing contacts, suggested to him by a friend who is an optometrist.)

1952 (Age 12): Hong Kong – Bruce begins attending La Salle College.

1953 (Age 13): Hong Kong – After being beaten up by a street gang, Bruce begins to take Kung-Fu lessons, despite local Hong Kong laws, outlawing street fights. This is the first, and the last time Bruce loses a fight. He begins to train under Sifu Yip Man, a master of the wing chun system of Kung-Fu.

1954 (Age 14): Hong Kong – Bruce takes up cha-cha dancing.

1958 (Age 18): Hong Kong – Bruce wins the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. Bruce has a leading role in the film The Orphan. This is the last movie Bruce makes as a child actor. This is the only movie where Bruce does not fight.

1958 (Age 18): ??? – Bruce enters the 1958 Boxing Championships and defeats the reigning three year champion, Gary Elms.

1959 (Age 18): Hong Kong – Because of numerous street fighting, causing police involvement, Bruce’s father and mother decide that Bruce should take a three week voyage to the United States. The trip is a possible means to get him back on the right track. He return to his birth-place — San Francisco Chinatown. Time was also running out for him to claim his American Citizenship, which he had to do at 18.

1959 (Age 18): San Francisco – Seattle – With $15 from his father, and $100 from his mother, Bruce arrives in the United States, living with an old friend of his father. He works odd jobs around the various Chinese communities. Later, he moves to Seattle to work for Ruby Chow, another friend of his father. He lives in a room above her restaurant while working as a waiter downstairs. He eventually enrolls in Edison Technical School and earns his high school diploma. Bruce begins to teach his Martial Art skills in backyards and city parks.

1961 – March (Age 21): Seattle – Bruce enrolls at the University of Washington, studying Philosophy. He teaches Kung-Fu to students at school.

Bruce Lee's Chinese Gung Fu Book
Bruce Lee’s Chinese Gung Fu Book

1963 – Summer (Age 23): Hong Kong – Bruce proposes to Amy Sanbo but is turned down. Bruce returns to Hong Kong with friend Doug Palmer for the first time since his arrival in the United States to visit his family. He then returns to Seattle at the end of summer to continue his education.

1963 – (Age 23) Bruce Lee writes and illustrates with great detail, his book Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense. Photos for the book are taken in the parking lot of Ruby Chow’s. It is the only book actually published by Bruce Lee during his lifetime.

Bruce and Linda Lee
Bruce and Linda Lee

1963 – October 25 (Age 23): Seattle – Bruce takes out Linda Emery (his future wife) for their first date. They have dinner at the Space Needle. Bruce gives notice to Ruby Chow and leaves her restaurant. He starts the first Jun Fan Kung-Fu Institute.

1963 – Fall (Age 23): Seattle – Bruce moves his Jun Fan Kung-Fu Institute into a building (4750 University Way) near the university campus. He teaches any person of any race. (most Asian Martial Arts schools would only teach people of their own race)

At Garfield High School, Bruce demonstrates the “One-Inch Punch”. This is the punch he would later make famous at the 1964 Long Beach Internationals and which was developed by him and James DeMile in Seattle. Bruce would hold his arm straight out, and with a shrug of his shoulder, knock a man straight across the room.

Jhoon Rhee and Bruce Lee
Jhoon Rhee and Bruce Lee

1964 (Age 24): ??? Bruce meets Jhoon Rhee at the International Karate Championships. The two would remain good friends. (Jhoon Rhee will invite Bruce to Washington, D.C. to appear at tournaments.)

Bruce Lee at the Jhoon Rhee internationals

1964 – June (Age 24): ??? – Bruce discusses with James Yimm Lee plans to open a second Jun Fan Kung-Fu Institute in Oakland, California.

1964 – Summer – Oakland (Age 24): Plans are finalized, and Bruce leaves Seattle to start a second Jun Fan Kung-Fu school in Oakland, California. His good friend, Taky Kimura, takes over the Jun Fan Kung-Fu Institute Seattle school as head instructor.

1964 – August 17 (Age 24): Seattle – Bruce returns to Seattle to marry Linda Emery. They soon move to Oakland, California.

1964 – August 2 (Age 24): Long Beach, CA – Ed Parker, known as the Father of American Karate (Kenpo), invites Bruce Lee to give a demonstration. Bruce shows off his “one-inch punch,” and his two-finger push-ups, where he literally does “two” finger push-ups. At his first International Karate Championships are Jay Sebring, the hair stylist for Batman and William Dozier, a producer, who is looking to cast a part in a TV series he was developing. Sebring then gives a film of Bruce’s demo to Dozier who is impressed at Bruce’s “super-human abilities”. Bruce later flies down to Los Angeles for a screen test.

This video appears to be a mixture of footage including Bruce Lee at the Jhoon Rhee Internationals and at The Internationals in Long Beach.

1964 – August 4 (Age 24): Oakland – Bruce leaves for Seattle. He will propose to Linda.

Wong Jack Man
Wong Jack Man

1965 (Age 24): Oakland – Several months after he begins teaching, he is challenged by, Wong Jack Man, a leading Kung-Fu practitioner in the Chinatown Community. They agree: If Bruce loses, he will, either close his school, or stop teaching Caucasians; and if Jack loses, he will stop teaching. Jack Man Wong did not expect Bruce to actually fight, and Wong tries to delay the match. Bruce becomes angered and insists that they fight. Wong then tries to put limitations on techniques. Bruce refuses “rules”and the two go no holds barred. Bruce begins to pound his opponent in only a couple of seconds. As Bruce is winning, Wong attempts to flee, but is caught by Bruce. Bruce begins to beat him on the ground. Students of the other teacher attempt to step in and help their teacher, James Lee, Bruce’s good friend prevents this. Later while rethinking the fight, Bruce Lee  is bothered that the fight took so long and he begins to re-evaluate his style and his level of physical conditioning. Thus, the early concepts of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do® (JKD), “The art of the intercepting fist” is created. JKD is an art including techniques of all types of fighting. (i.e. American Boxing, Thai Kick Boxing, Japanese Karate, etc.) Bruce Lee’s style is no style.

1965 (Age 24): Bruce is signed to a one-year option for The Green Hornet series. He is paid an $1800 retainer.

1965 – February 1 (Age 25): Oakland, CA – Brandon Bruce Lee is born.

1965 – February 8 (Age 25): Hong Kong – Bruce’s father passes away in Hong Kong. Bruce returns to Hong Kong for his fathers funeral. As tradition dictates, in order to obtain forgiveness for not being present when his father died, Bruce crawls on his knees across the floor of the funeral home towards the casket wailing loudly and crying.

1965 – May (Age 25): ??? Bruce uses the retainer money from The Green Hornet and flies Linda, Brandon and himself, back to Hong Kong in order to settle his father’s estate affairs. While in Hong Kong, Bruce takes Brandon to see Yip Man to persuade Yip to perform on tape. Bruce wants to take the footage back to Seattle and show his students what the man looks like in action. Yip modestly declines.

1965 – September (Age 25): Seattle – Bruce, Linda, Brandon return to Seattle.

The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet

1966 (Age 26): Los Angeles – Bruce Lee and his family move to Los Angeles to an apartment on Wilshire and Gayley in Westwood, California. Here he begins working as Kato on the new TV series, The Green Hornet. The Green Hornet series starts filming and Bruce is Paid $400 per episode. Bruce buys a 1966 blue Chevy Nova. Bruce is later known to have gotten the part of Kato because he was the only person who could accurately pronounce the star’s name, Britt Reid. He later opens third branch of the Jun Fan Kung-Fu Institute in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

1966 – September 9 (Age 26): Los Angeles – The Green Hornet series premiers.

1967-1971 (Age 27-31): Hollywood – During this time, Bruce Lee lands bit parts in various films and TV series. He also gives private lessons for up to $250 an hour to personalities Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Lee Marvin, Roman Polanski, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Bruce meets Chuck Norris in New York at the All American Karate Championships in Washington D.C. Chuck fights Joe Lewis and wins.

1967 (Age 27): Washington, D.C. – Bruce Lee meets Joe Lewis at The Mayflower Hotel while both were guests at the 1967 National Karate Championships. Joe is competing in the tournament and Bruce is making special appearances as Kato.

1967 – February (Age 27): Los Angeles – Bruce opens a 3rd school at 628 College Street, Los Angeles, California and Dan Inosanto serves as assistant instructor.

1967 – July 14 (Age 27): Los Angeles – The last episode of The Green Hornet Series shows. The show is later said to have failed because Bruce Lee, a minor role in the series became more popular than the main character.

1969 – April 19 (Age 29): Santa Monica, CA Shannon Lee is born.

1969 (Age 29): ??? – A scriptwriter is hired and paid $12K by Stirling Silliphant and James Coburn to write a script for The Silent Flute. The script produced is unacceptable, and no other scriptwriter could seem to do the job. They then decide to write it themselves.

1970 (Age 30): Los Angeles – Bruce injures his sacral nerve and experiences severe muscle spasms in his back while training. Doctors tell him that he will never kick again. During the months of recovery he starts to document his training methods and his philosophy of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do®. Later after his death, The Tao of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do® is published by his wife in memory of Bruce Lee.

1970 (Age 30): Hong Kong – Bruce and Brandon fly to Hong Kong and are welcomed by fans of The Green Hornet Show. Bruce sends Unicorn to talk to Run Run Shaw on his behalf and inform Shaw that he would be willing to do a movie for him for $10K. Shaw makes counter-offer of a seven year contract and $2K per film which Bruce declines.

1971 – February (Age 31): India – Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant fly to India to scout locations for The Silent Flute. They spend one month searching but are forced to call off the search as Coburn backs out of the project. This trip gives Bruce the idea for Game of Death (1978) where a fighter, mastering in several techniques, will go from one level to the next in a temple: the first level (the level of weaponry), the second level (the level of the nine degree black belt), and the third level ( “The level of the unknown.”)

1971 (Age 31): Hong Kong. – Bruce takes a short trip back to Hong Kong to arrange for his mother to live in the U.S. Unknowingly to him, he had become a superstar for The Green Hornet was one of the most popular TV shows in Hong Kong. Later, he is approached by Raymond Chow, owner of a new production company, and offered the lead role in a new film called The Big Boss (1971). Bruce accepts. Bruce is supplied with small furnished apartment at 2 Man Wan Road – Kowloon, HK. Wu Ngan, Bruce’s unofficially adopted brother, moves in with Bruce and Linda. Later Wu Ngan marries and his new wife moves in as well. Brandon attends La Salle College. The same school Bruce attended only 15 years before. Bruce is interviewed by Canadian talk show host, Pierre Berton, for a TV program being filmed in Hong Kong. This is the only on film interview said to be in existence.

1971- July (Age 31): Thailand – Filming begins for The Big Boss (1971) which was released in the U.S. as Fists of Fury (1971). The Big Boss (1971) opens in Hong Kong to great reviews and mobs of fans. Proceeds to gross more than $3.5 million in little than three weeks.

1971 – December 7 (Age 31): Hong Kong – Bruce receives telegram, notifying him that he had not been chosen for the part in the upcoming series, The Warrior. This series was later released as Kung-Fu, staring David Carradine, who doesn’t know anything about martial arts. (The show aired as ABC-TVs Movie of the Week on February 21, 1972.)

1972 (Age 32): Hong Kong – Fist of Fury (1972) which was released in the U.S. as The Chinese Connection, is released. It grosses more than The Big Boss (1971) and further establishes Bruce as a Hong Kong superstar. Bruce gets a larger budget, a larger salary, and more power of directing in this film. Bruce begins work on Game of Death (1978) and films several fight scenes including Dan Inosanto and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bruce appears on Hong Kong’s TVB channel for a hurricane disaster relief benefit. In a demo Bruce performs, he breaks 4 out of 5 boards, one of which is hanging in the air with a line of string. Brandon even performs and breaks a board with a sidekick! Bruce helps Unicorn, a fellow actor, by assisting him for one day and supervises fight action sequences in Unicorn’s film, The Unicorn Palm – Footage of Bruce on the set is used in the movie and Bruce’s name appears in the credits to his surprise causing Bruce to become angry and make a public announcement denying his endorsement of the film. Unicorn was advised to get Bruce’s name in the credits, so his movie would have a better chance at being a success.

1972 (Age 32): Rome, Italy – Location shots are made for Bruce Lee’s third film The Way of the Dragon (1972), which was released in the U.S. as The Return of the Dragon. This time Bruce gets almost complete control of the movie, which he writes, directs, and stars in. Chuck Norris is Bruce’s adversary in the final fight scene. Again, this film surpasses all records set by his previous two films.

1972 – December 28 (Age 32): Oakland Bruce’s brother, James, dies of “Black Lung.”

1973 – February (Age 33): Hong Kong – Bruce gets his chance at American stardom as filming of Enter the Dragon (1973) begins while Game of Death (1978) is put on hold. It is the first-ever production between the U.S. and Hong Kong film industries. On February 20, Bruce Lee is guest of honor at St. Francis Xavier’s school for Sports Day ceremonies.

1973 (Age 33): Los Angeles – Grace Lee, Bruce’s sister, sees Bruce in Los Angeles, California. Bruce tells her that he does not expect to live much longer and that she is not to worry about finances as he will make sure she is provided for. She rebukes him for talking that way.

1973 – April (Age 33): Hong Kong – Filming of Enter the Dragon (1973) is completed. Bruce Lee is at Golden Harvest Studios in Hong Kong dubbing his voice for Enter The Dragon. The air conditioners had been turned off, so the microphones won’t pick them up. The temperature soared. Bruce takes a break looping lines to go to the bathroom and splash water on his face. In he bathroom, he passes out on the bathroom floor. He revives twenty minutes later just as assistant sent to find out what was keeping him walks in and discovers him on the ground. He tries to conceal his collapse by acting as though he has dropped his glasses on the floor and is searching for them and is helped up by the assistant. As they are walking back to the dubbing room, Bruce collapses again and is rushed to a nearby hospital.

1973 – July 10 (Age 33): Hong Kong – Bruce Lee is walking through the Golden Harvest Studios and overhears Lo Wei Lo in a nearby room bad mouthing him. He confronts Wei Lo who retreats and summons the local police. When the police arrive Lo Wei falsely accuses Bruce Lee of threatening him with a knife concealed in his belt buckle. He further insists that Bruce sign a statement that he will not harm him. Bruce signs the statement to get Lo Wei off his back, although Lo Wei lied to the police and Bruce never had a knife or threatened to kill him. That same day, Bruce appears on the Hong Kong TV show, Enjoy Yourself Tonight with host Ho Sho Shin. Bruce alludes to his problems with director Lo Wei, but does not mention him by name. Bruce is asked to display his physical prowess and demonstrates his abilities. Bruce demonstrates a technique and Shin is hurled across the stage. The show of power causes the press to indite Bruce in the paper and accuse him of bullying the talk show host though this was not the case.

1973 – July 16 (Age 33): Hong Kong – Heavy rains fall caused by a typhoon off the coast of Hong Kong. Bruce Lee makes a $200 phone call to the hotel room of Unicorn, who is filming a movie in Manila. Bruce tells Unicorn that he is worried about the many headaches he is experiencing.

1973 – July 18 (Age 33): Hong Kong – A bad Feng Shui deflector, placed on the roof of Bruce’s Cumberland Road home in Hong Kong is blown off the roof by heavy rain and winds. The deflector had been placed on the house to protect Bruce and family from bad Feng Shui; previous owners had all been plagued by financial disaster and it was believed that this was because of the incorrect positioning of the house. The deflector was to ward off evil spirits.

1973 – July 20 (Age 33): Hong Kong – Early in the morning Bruce types a letter to his attorney, Adrian Marshall, detailing business ventures he wants to discuss on his upcoming trip to Los Angeles. Bruce had tickets already set to return to the U.S. for a publicity tour and was scheduled to appear on the Johnny Carson show. Raymond Chow goes by Bruce’s house and the two discuss plans for their upcoming movie Game of Death (1978). Linda kisses Bruce good-bye and says she is going out to run some errands and will see him later that night. Raymond and Bruce visit Betty Ting Pei at her apartment to discuss her role in Game of Death (1978). That evening plans had been made for them all to meet George Lazenby over dinner and enlist him for a part. Bruce explains that he has a headache, takes a prescription pain killer offered by Betty, and lies down on her bed to rest prior to dinner. Raymond Chow departs and says that he will meet them later. Raymond Chow and George Lazenby meet at a restaurant and await Bruce and Betty’s arrival, but the two never show up. At 9:00 p.m. Chow receives a call from Betty; she said that she has tried to wake Bruce up but he won’t come to. Betty summons her personal physician who fails to revive Bruce and who has Bruce taken to the hospital. Bruce does not revive and is pronounced dead. The doctor’s are surprised that he had lasted as long as he did that night but unfortunately Betty did not get him help soon enough. Bruce Lee dies in Hong Kong of an apparent cerebral edema (swelling of the brain). After much confusion and debate, doctors declared the death of Bruce Lee as “death by misadventure.” Enter the Dragon (1973) was delayed from its initial premieres by four day because of the actors death.

1973 – July 25 (Age 33): Hong Kong – A funeral ceremony is held for friends and fans in Hong Kong consisting of over 25,000 people. Bruce is dressed in the Chinese outfit he wore in Enter the Dragon.

Bey Logan Talks About Fists of Fury and Game of Death

1973 – July 30 (Age 33): Seattle – After a smaller second ceremony in Seattle, Washington at Butterworth Funeral Home on East Pine Street, Bruce Lee is buried at Lake View Cemetery. His pallbearers included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura, Peter Chin, and his brother, Robert Lee.

1973 – August 24 Hollywood – Enter The Dragon (1973) premiers at Graumann’s Chinese Theater. The movie is a success, and Bruce Lee achieves world-wide fame.

Enter The Dragon Premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater