Bruce Lee at 75: Facts About the Kung Fu Master

To celebrate what would have been Bruce Lee's 75th birthday this Friday, here are five facts about the unforgettable action star and cultural icon.
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To celebrate what would have been Bruce Lee's 75th birthday this Friday, here are five facts about the unforgettable action star and cultural icon.
Bruce Lee Photo

Bruce Lee 

From Hong Kong to Hollywood to global phenomenon, the legend of Bruce Lee lives on. Production has just begun on a biopic about the iconic action star. Birth of the Dragon promises to explore Lee’s early days in California and the challenges he faced in bringing Kung Fu to the west. Hard to believe, but were he still alive today, Bruce Lee would be 75 this Friday. 

Born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong, Lee began studying martial arts in order to fend off childhood bullies. At 18, he enrolled at Washington University and taught Kung Fu to pay the bills. He eventually married one of his students, Linda Lee Cadwell. The couple had two children together, Brandon Lee (who was killed in 1993 while filming The Crow) and Shannon Lee. In 1973, while working on the film The Game of Death, the actor took a painkiller, went to sleep and could not be revived. The cause of death was a cerebral edema. 

Gone but far from forgotten, Bruce Lee remains a cultural icon to this day. To celebrate his 75th birthday, here are five interesting facts about the the coolest guy to ever sport a yellow jumpsuit.

1. They called him Jun Fan.

Bruce Lee’s real name was Lee Jun Fan, which means “to make prosperous.” Living in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong, the family hoped the name would bring good fortune. He was given his English name, Bruce, as a baby by one of the pediatric nurses at Jackson Street Hospital in San Francisco, where he was born. But Lee didn’t call himself that until high school, when he and his fellow students were asked to choose an English name.

2. He once beat up Jackie Chan.

While filming Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee accidentally whacked a young Jackie Chan across the head with a stick. The sequence looks great on film, but when the cameras stopped rolling the action star was very apologetic. Headache notwithstanding, Jackie Chan recounts the moment as one of his fondest memories. See for yourself:

3. His punches were too fast for cameras.

During his early work on the television show, The Green Hornet, producers soon noticed that his fight movements were so fast they weren’t being recorded on film. "At first, it was ridiculous. All you could see were people falling down in front of me," Bruce said. "Even when I slowed down, all the camera showed was a blur." To compensate, cameras needed to be sped up in order to catch the action.

4. Super, but still human.

There’s no doubt that Bruce Lee had the body of a superhero, but he wasn’t genetically perfect. He actually failed a physical exam in 1963 administered to him by the U.S. Army Draft Board. He also had bad eyesight, forcing him to endure early production contact lenses. (Some speculate that his vision may have had something to do with his reputation as a terrible driver.) In 1970, he spent months recovering from nerve damage to his back that was so severe it threatened to end his martial arts career.

Bruce Lee Photo

Although he had the body of a superhero, Bruce Lee wasn't superhuman. He had bad eyesight, forcing him to endure early production contact lenses.

5. He was the man behind the original series, Kung Fu.

Bruce Lee originally pitched the series, Kung Fu, which was reprised in 1993 as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. It was his idea to do a show starring a monk who roamed the countryside helping people. Warner Bros. green lit the show in 1972, but cast David Carradine in the starring role instead of Bruce. The news came as a disappointment, but soon after that, Bruce Lee began a flurry of big screen roles that would immortalize him as a cultural icon.