It is hard to believe but on Saturday July 20th, it will be 40 years to the day since martial arts movie star and popular culture icon Bruce Lee died in Hong Kong.
Lee Jun-fan was born in Chinatown, San Francisco in November 1940 to parents originating from Hong Kong.
Raised in Kowloon, he was introduced to the movie industry by his father and appeared in numerous films in his early years.
At the age of 18 he returned to the USA in order further his education and at that time began to teach martial arts. Initially going back to the San Francisco area, he soon moved on to Seattle in 1959, completing High School a year later.
In 1961 he enrolled at the University of Washington, majoring in drama, but also studying philosophy and psychology amongst other subjects. In 1964 he married fellow student Linda Emery and they went on to have 2 children.
Best remembered for his 5 major feature films, namely The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973) and The Game of Death (1973), Lee became an iconic figure throughout the world but predominantly to the Chinese as he portrayed Chinese Nationalism in his work.
His films sparked a surge of Chinese martial arts popularity throughout the world during the 70s and beyond.
At the height of his popularity, Lee collapsed in May 1973 whilst working on Enter the Dragon at Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studios. Suffering from seizures and severe headaches, he was rushed to hospital where he received a diagnosis of cerebral edema.
Six weeks later, he was due to have dinner with former James Bond star George Lazenby (remember him?) to discuss a future movie role, when being struck again with another headache. He was given a painkiller and went to lie down and rest at about 7.30 in the evening.
But when not arriving for dinner, film producer Raymond Chow went to his apartment to check on him, but was unable to raise the star. A doctor was summoned who also tried unsuccessfully to revive him and Lee was pronounced dead on arrival at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Many conspiracy theories still exist surrounding the death of Bruce Lee, including supposed murder by the Triads and curses placed on his family, but at the time it was ruled as “death by misadventure.”
Laid to rest in Lakeview Cemetery in his adopted home city of Seattle, the pallbearers at his funeral included Steve McQueen, James Coburn and the aforementioned George Lazenby.
Bruce Lee was named by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century and as recently as April 2013, he posthumously received the prestigious Founders Award at the Asian Awards.