Biography and Profile of Bruce Lee

A Martial Arts Master

Classic photo of Bruce Lee
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The biography and story of Bruce Lee began on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco, California. He was born Lee Jun Fan, the fourth child of a Chinese father named Lee Hoi-Chuen and a mother of Chinese and German ancestry named Grace.

Personal Life

Bruce Lee married Linda Emery in 1964. They had two children together: Brandon Lee and Shannon. Unfortunately, his son, also an actor, was fatally shot in 1993 while on the set of The Crow by a gun that supposedly had blanks in it.

The Early Life of Bruce Lee

Lee’s father was a Hong Kong opera singer who was on tour in San Francisco when he was born, making Lee a U.S. citizen. Three months later, the family returned to Hong Kong, which was occupied by the Japanese at the time.

When Lee was 12 years old, he enrolled in La Salle College (a high school) and later took up at St. Francis Xavier’s College (another high school).

The Kung Fu Background of Bruce Lee

Lee’s father, Lee Hoi-Cheun, was his first martial arts instructor, teaching the Wu style of Tai Chi Chuan to him early on. After taking up with a Hong Kong street gang 1954, Lee began to feel the need to improve his fighting. Thus, he began studying Wing Chun Gung Fu under Sifu Yip Man. While there, Lee often trained under one of Yip’s top students, Wong Shun-Leung. Wong therefore had a major impact on his training. Lee studied under Yip Man until he was 18 years of age.

It is said that Yip Man sometimes trained Lee privately because some students refused to work with him because of his mixed ancestry.

Bruce Lee Taking Martial Arts Further

Most don’t realize how eclectic Lee’s martial arts background was. Beyond kung fu, Lee also trained in western boxing where he won the 1958 boxing championship against Gary Elms by knockout in the third round.

Lee also learned fencing techniques from his brother, Peter Lee (a champion in the sport). This varied background led to personal modifications to Wing Chun Gung Fu, calling his newer version of the style, Jun Fan Gung Fu. In fact, Lee opened his first martial arts school in Seattle under the moniker, Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute.

Jeet Kune Do

After a match against Wong Jack Man, Lee decided that he had failed to live up to his potential because of the rigidity of Wing Chun practices. Thus, he began to formulate a martial arts style that was practical for street fighting and existed outside of the parameters and limitations of other martial arts styles. In other words, what worked stayed and what didn’t went.

This is how Jeet Kune Do was born in 1965. Lee opened two more schools after moving to California, only certifying three instructors in the art himself: Taky Kimura, James Yimm Lee, and Dan Inosanto.

Early Acting Career and Return to America

Bruce Lee appeared his first film at three months of age, acting as a stand in for an American baby in Golden Gate Girl. All told, he made about 20 appearances in films as a child actor.

In 1959, Lee got into trouble with the police for fighting. His mother, deciding that the area they were living in was too dangerous for him, sent him back to the United State to live with some friends. There he graduated high school in Edison, Washington before enrolling at the University of Washington to study philosophy. He began teaching martial arts there as well, and that’s how he met his future wife, Linda Emery.

The Green Hornet Series

Bruce Lee made some American headlines as an actor in the television series, The Green Hornet, which aired from 1966 to 67. He served as the Hornet’s sidekick, Kato, where he showed off his film-friendly fighting style. Even with further appearances, the acting stereotypes were great barriers, prompting him to return to Hong Kong in 1971. There, Lee became a huge film star, starring in movies like Fists of Fury, The Chinese Connection, and Way of the Dragon.

Death as an American Star

On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died in Hong Kong at the age of 32. The official cause of his death was a brain edema, which had been caused by a reaction to a prescription painkiller he was taking for a back injury. Controversy swelled regarding his passing, as Lee had been obsessed with the idea that he might die early, leaving many wondering if he'd been murdered.

One month after Lee’s death in the United States Enter the Dragon came out in the U.S., eventually grossing over $200 million.

Popular Bruce Lee Movies and Television

  • The Chinese Connection: A film that helped catapult Lee to Asian stardom. The fight scenes, as always in his movies, were excellent.
  • Enter the Dragon: The film that made Bruce Lee a superstar in America. Unfortunately, it was released one month after his death. .
  • Fists of Fury: Bruce Lee promised his mother that he wouldn’t fight. Of course, that only worked until the need for revenge became too great.
  • Green Hornet: America took notice of the Green Hornet’s sidekick, Kato, who was played by Bruce Lee in this popular American television series. Lee’s time on the Green Hornet served as his introduction to the American mainstream. .