Who is Bruce Lee?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Bruce Lee was a celebrated martial artist and actor who worked during the 20th century. He is often considered to be one of the most prominent martial artists of the 20th century, and he is directly credited with popularizing martial arts and Hong Kong-style action films in the West. Despite the fact that Bruce Lee died very young, he continues to be an iconic figure in the worlds of film and martial arts, and he is the subject of numerous cultural references and tributes.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Lee was born in 1940 in San Francisco to Chinese parents, moving to Hong Kong at a young age with his parents. His father was involved in the Cantonese opera, so the young Bruce Lee quickly found himself introduced to the film industry. At 18, Bruce Lee traveled to the United States to study at the University of Washington, where he met Linda Emery, whom he married in 1964; the couple had two children, Brandon Lee and Shannon Lee. During Lee's initial period in the United States, he decided to focus on martial arts, but he quickly found himself with film and television roles as a result of his skill.

Bruce Lee was a small man, but he was extremely muscular and very powerful. He focused heavily on personal fitness and nutrition, constantly working to keep his body in excellent shape, and his efforts paid off in competition and on film. Frustrated with the highly ritualized techniques of many traditional martial arts styles, Lee also developed Jeet Kune Do, a martial arts form which focuses on flexibility, efficiency, and speed, rejecting some of the highly formalized movements of other martial arts styles.

In addition to working in film and television, Bruce Lee also worked as a martial arts instructor and competitor. His small size and large musculature captured the attention of many people in the West, leading to a marked increase of interest in martial arts and spawning legions of followers who wanted to develop martial arts skills. Though his acting skills were not particularly stellar, many fans felt that he made up for it with his martial arts ability.

In 1973, Bruce Lee collapsed while working on Enter the Dragon, his last and perhaps most famous film. He was treated for cerebral edema and released; two months later, Lee took a painkiller for a headache and decided to lie down, but he never got up again. His autopsy indicated that the cerebral edema had returned, and his death was largely regarded as an unfortunate accident. Some fans were skeptical of this, pointing to Lee's incredible physical fitness and obsession with well-being, and some people suggested that there might be a Bruce Lee curse, especially after his son Brandon Lee died at only 28 due an accident on a film set.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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