Brandon Bruce Lee (李國豪 Cantonese: Léi
Gwokhòu Pinyin: Lǐ Guóháo; February 1, 1965 – March 31, 1993) was an
American actor of Chinese, English and Swedish descent. He was the son
of the late legendary martial arts film star Bruce Lee
and his wife Linda Lee Emery.
Blackbelt Magazine's 1993
Man of the Year
Brandon Lee was born in Oakland,
California, to the legendary martial artist actor Bruce Lee and his wife
Linda Emery. Only a week after his birth, his grandfather Lee Hoi-Chuen
died. The family moved to Los Angeles, California when he was three
months old, but when offers for film roles became limited for his father
the family moved back to Hong Kong in 1971; Bruce Lee made three films
there between 1971 and 1973.
When Lee was eight, his father died suddenly from a cerebral edema.
After her husband's death, Linda Lee moved the family (including
daughter Wendy Lee, who was born in 1969) back to the United States.
They lived briefly in his mother's hometown of Seattle, Washington, and
then in Los Angeles, where Lee grew up in the affluent area of Rolling
Hills. According to his mother, he was "a handful... either the
teacher's pet, or the teacher's nightmare."
He attended high school at Chadwick School, but was expelled for
insubordination three months before graduating. He received his GED in
1983, and then went to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts where he
majored in theater. After one year, Lee moved to New York City where he
took acting lessons at the famed Lee Strasberg Academy and was part of
the American New Theatre group founded by his friend John Lee Hancock.
The bulk of Lee's martial arts instruction came from his father's top
student, Dan Inosanto.
Lee returned to Los Angeles in 1985,
where he worked for Ruddy Morgan Productions as a script reader. He was
asked to audition for a role by casting director Lyn Stalmaster and then
made his acting debut in Kung Fu: The Movie, which was a feature-length
television movie and a follow-up to the 1970s television series Kung Fu.
The film aired on ABC on February 1, 1986 which was also Lee's birthday.
In Kung Fu: The Movie, Lee played Chung Wang, the suspected son of Kwai
Chang Caine (played by David Carradine). This seemed ironic at the time
as Brandon's father Bruce Lee was originally intended to have played the
leading role in the Kung Fu TV series as he had also come up with the
original concept for the TV series but in the end he was turned down for
playing the lead in favor for Carradine.
Herbie Pilato, in his 1993 book The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete
Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western, commented on the casting
of the original Kung Fu series:
"Before the filming of the Kung Fu TV series began, there was some
discussion as to whether or not an Asian actor should play Kwai Chang
Caine. Bruce Lee was considered for the role. In 1971, Bruce Lee wasn't
the cult film hero he later became for his roles in The Big Boss (1971),
Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon
(1973). At that point he was best known as Kato on TV's Green Hornet
(1966-1967). After Bruce Lee lost the part to Carradine, he went back to
China, where he made The Big Boss, the film that began his legendary
career in martial arts movies."
Later that same year in 1986 Lee got his first major film role in the
Hong Kong action thriller Legacy of Rage in which he starred alongside
Michael Wong and Bolo Yeung, the latter of whom also appeared in his
father's last film, Enter the Dragon. The film was made in Cantonese,
and directed by Ronny Yu. It was the only film Lee made in Hong Kong in
his entire career.
Lee then went onto star in a unsuccessful television pilot which was
another follow-up to the television series Kung Fu and was titled Kung
Fu: The Next Generation. In this film the story moved to the present
day, and centered on the story of Johnny Caine (played by Lee), who is
the great-grandson of Kwai Chang Caine. The pilot was not picked up for
a series but did air on CBS Summer Playhouse, a series that aired unsold
television pilots during the summer of 1987.
Lee then made a guest appearance in an episode of the short-lived
American television series Ohara (1988) as a villainious character named
Kenji opposite Pat Morita who played the title role.
In 1990, Lee starred in his first English language B-grade film, Laser
Mission, which was filmed cheaply in South Africa. In 1991, he starred
opposite Dolph Lundgren in the buddy cop action thriller Showdown in
Little Tokyo which marked his first studio film and American film debut.
Lee signed a multi-picture deal with 20th Century Fox in 1991. He had
his first starring role in the action thriller Rapid Fire in 1992, and
was scheduled to do two more films for them.
In 1992, Lee landed the lead role of Eric Draven, in the movie
adaptation of The Crow, a popular underground comic book. About his
character, an undead rock musician avenging his and his fiancée's
murder, Lee said, "He has something he has to do and he is forced to put
aside his own pain long enough to go do it".
It would be Lee's last film. Filming began on February 1, 1993, which
was his 28th birthday.
On March 31, 1993, the film crew filmed a
scene in which Lee's character walked into his apartment and discovered
his girlfriend being raped by thugs. Actor Michael Massee, who played
one of the film's villains, was supposed to fire a gun at Lee as he
walked into his apartment with groceries.
Because the movie's second unit team were running behind schedule, it
was decided that dummy cartridges (cartridges that outwardly appear to
be functional, but contain no gunpowder) would be made from real
cartridges. A cartridge with only a primer and a bullet was fired in the
pistol prior to the scene. It caused a squib load, in which the primer
provided enough force to push the bullet out of the cartridge and into
the barrel of the revolver, where it became stuck.
The malfunction went unnoticed by the crew, and the same gun was used
again later to shoot the death scene, having been re-loaded with blanks.
However, the squib load was still lodged in the barrel, and was
propelled by the blank cartridge's explosion out of the barrel and into
Lee's body. Although the bullet was traveling much more slowly than a
normally fired bullet would be, the bullet's large size and the nearly
point-blank firing distance made it powerful enough to mortally wound
When the blank was fired, the bullet shot out and hit Lee in the
abdomen. He fell down instantly and the director shouted "CUT!," but Lee
did not respond. The cast and crew filming rushed to him and noticed he
was wounded. He was immediately rushed to the hospital where the doctors
tried to revive him for five hours. It was too late however and he was
pronounced dead at 1.00am.
The footage of the incident was soon destroyed without ever being
His funeral was held several days later; he was buried next to his
father in Lake View Cemetery, Seattle. The following day, a memorial
service was held in Los Angeles.
The shooting was ruled as an accident, although many fans suspected foul
play. (Bruce Lee's own death in 1973, at the age of 32, apparently from
a reaction to an analgesic he had taken, was also considered
suspicious.) The theory of the Lee "family curse" was also carried over
from Bruce Lee's death to Brandon's death as he had died almost 20 years
after his father and before the release of the film which could have
potentially catapulted him to stardom.
At the time of his death, he was allegedly in talks with filmmakers
about making sequels to Rapid Fire and The Crow.