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   Lee Jun Fan was born on November 27, 1940 (the year and the hour of the Dragon in the Chinese astrological calendar) at San Francisco's Jackson Street Hospital. His father, Lee Hoi Chuen, was an accomplished Chinese Opera performer, and was touring the US. His mother, Grace Lee, was half German and half Chinese. It was a nurse at the hospital who gave Jun Fan the name 'Bruce'.

The family returned to their crowded home in Kowloon, Hong Kong, on the busy Nathan Road. Bruce had two brothers and two sisters. The young boy became a child actor at the age of six, appearing in various black-and-white Cantonese movies, starting with 'The Beginning of a Boy' and ending with 'The Orphan'. With the exception of 'The Thunderstorm', the characters he portrayed were always 'problem youths'. It was during the production of one of these films that he earned the nickname Lee Siu Lung (The Little Dragon).

As a teenager, Lee had two major interests : cha-cha and kung fu. At the age of 13, he was beaten by a street gang. This incident incited Bruce to start studying the Wing Chun style of kung fu under the guidance of a martial arts master named Yip Man. In 1958, he won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. Lee became a problem for his parents, constantly getting involved in streetfights that sometimes drew the attention of the local police.

At the age of 18, his parents decided it was safer for him to return to the US and exercise his American citizenship. After Bruce arrived in San Francisco with no more than 150$ US in his pocket, he soon moved to Seattle, where he did various part-time jobs around the Chinese community. He earned his high school diploma from the Edison Technical School. While he was studying Philosophy at University of Washington in 1961, the young man reperfected his martial arts skills and created his own system, which he later named 'Jun Fan Gung Fu'. He opened his first martial arts school, the 'Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute', near the university campus. Lee also met a fellow student named Linda Emery, who would later become his wife. Despite objections from their own families, they were married on August 17, 1964.

Bruce and Linda moved to Oakland, California, where he opened a second martial arts school. Their son, Brandon Bruce Lee (who would share the same tragic fate as his father at the age of 28) was born on February 1, 1965. Lee gave a demonstration of Jeet Kune Do, his new martial arts philosophy, at the first International Karate Championships. This performance was seen by a Hollywood hair-dresser named Jay Sebring, who suggested to 'Batman' producer William Dozier that Lee might be perfect for a new show he was developing entitled 'Number One Son'. Bruce performed a black-and-white screen-test for Dozier, and was later cast as Kato on a television series called 'The Green Hornet' .

Lee's Jeet Kune Do classes were so popular that he was able to charge his rich clients 250$ US an hour. When asked why he set the price so high, he simply said, "They can afford it." As for his middle and low-income students, he taught them for free. In our money-obsessed culture, such generosity is almost unheard of.

'The Green Hornet' enjoyed only a modest success in America, but it was popular enough in Hong Kong for Lee to be invited to a local TV show where he gave a martial arts demonstration. This caught Golden Harvest producer Raymond Chow's attention, who sent the wife of his top director, Lo Wei, to Los Angeles to offer Bruce a two-picture deal with his studio.

Lee had just been rejected the title role in 'Kung Fu', a show he helped create with William Dozier (no doubt because of his race). This betrayal had left the martial artist feeling very bitter and angry. Bruce and Linda celebrated the birth of their daughter, Shannon Emery Lee, on April 19, 1969. After the Golden Harvest contract was signed, Bruce flew to Thailand to star in 'The Big Boss' (released as 'Fists of Fury' in North America). This 1971 film was an instant hit, breaking all previous box office records in Hong Kong (3 million $HK) and immediately established Lee as the local superstar. He moved back to Hong Kong with Linda and the children, where he began work on a second film called 'Fist of Fury' (also known as 'The Chinese Connection' in North America). This 1972 movie is considered to be one of Bruce's finest because it displays his action style at its best. 'Fist Of Fury' outshone its predecessor at the box office (4 million $HK). Raymond Chow agreed to work in partnership with the martial artist on future projects. 'Way Of The Dragon' (released in North America as 'Return of the Dragon') marked Lee's directorial debut. The movie took place in Rome and he took a crew to Italy to shoot scenes on location. The rest of 'Way Of The Dragon', including Lee's famed Coliseum duel with Chuck Norris, was shot at the Golden Harvest studios. This was Bruce's most successful film in Hong Kong, earning about 5,3 million $HK. Lee began shooting scenes for the ending of his next film called 'Game Of Death'. He did scenes with basketball player (and Jeet Kune Do student) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Aikido master Chi Hon Tsoi and his own apprentice, Dan Inosanto. Filming of 'Game Of Death' was put on hold to allow Bruce to shoot what would later become his most successful film. 'Enter the Dragon' was produced by Warner Brothers, the first American studio to release a martial arts movie. They knew that this Chinese actor had the potential to become famous worldwide. Bruce finally had the opportunity to prove to everybody he can make it big in a Hollywood motion picture, regardless of his origins. History was made in the summer of 1973. Bruce Lee was the first Asian actor to earn an international following. The popularity of 'Enter The Dragon' permitted the integration of martial arts into mainstream Western culture. His work has permitted other Chinese actors, such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, to enjoy success in North America without ever having to worry that their ethnicity will get in the way of it. Unfortunately, Lee never saw the fruits of his labor. Bruce Lee died mysteriously on July 20, 1973, at the age of 32, from a cerebral edema, which is a swelling of the brain. The official cause of death is an allergic reaction to a headache tablet he took called Equigesic. The full circumstances surrounding his death have never been fully explained, and perhaps we will never, ever know exactly how or why he died so suddenly. The world may have lost an incredible hero, but we have also gained an immortal legend. >



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