“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”—Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee. The name alone brings a smile to most people’s faces. Lee is still one of the most adored and legendary celebrities in the world and it was due to his infectious personality and incredible dedication to his craft. An inspiring story of willpower and an example of the powers of the human body and psyche, Bruce Lee lived a fascinating life in which he fought for what he wanted out of life. Here are 44 lethal facts about the legendary Bruce Lee.
1. Slow It Down
While filming Enter The Dragon, Lee was so fast that scenes had to be reshot in slow motion in order to properly capture his moves.
2. Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Most of the time n Bruce Lee’s films, when you hear someone—anyone—speaking English, it’s actually Lee’s voice that you’re hearing. Of course there were some exceptions, like Chuck Norris’s character, because...well, Chuck Norris.
3. British Bruce
Bruce Lee wasn’t of full Chinese descent. His Grandfather was actually British and his mother, Grace Ho, was of Eurasian origin. However, there are many conflicting reports of Grace’s lineage, as she was adopted.
4. Kung Fu Denial
Because he had some British blood, Lee was unable to enroll in many of the top Kung Fu schools across China.
5. Good Fortune
If it wasn’t for these denials, the Bruce Lee we know and love may never have come to be. He eventually went on to train in the Wing Chun style under the one and only Ip Man. Even in his school students refused to practice with him because of his mixed origins, so he trained privately with Ip Man and Wong Shun Leung, who was his personal trainer.
6. Operatic Origins
Bruce Lee’s father was one of the leading Opera singers and actors of his time. He often toured throughout the United States due to the large Chinese communities there. His mother was part of one of China’s most powerful clans, the Ho-tungs, which meant he was afforded a privileged upbringing.
7. The Way of The Lee
Not only did Lee write, direct, produce, and star in Way of the Dragon, but he also scouted, cast, choreographed, and did wardrobe for the film. In effect, it was Little Dragon’s little dragon.
8. Silky Smooth
The press of Hong Kong once voted Bruce Lee the “Worst-Dressed Actor of the Year” because they detested his elaborate silk suits. We, on the other hand, don’t mind a little silky flair.
9. Style of the Wu
Bruce Lee’s first trainer was his father, who had himself trained in the Wu family style t’ai chi ch’uan.
10. Born in the USA
Though he was from Hong Kong, Lee was actually born in the Chinatown of San Francisco, in 1940. He would return to Hong Kong with his parents three months after his birth.
11. Trust Your Intuition
Bruce Lee was actually named Lee Jun-fan when he was born. This was his Cantonese name, meaning “return again.” This name was given to him because his mother felt that he would return to the United States one day in his future. Bruce was given to him by the doctor in the room, who anglicized his name.
12. But Wait
Lee Jun-fan was his official Cantonese name, however, it was not his first. Because his mother was superstitious, she first named him a feminine name in order to throw off any evil spirits that may have been near. This name was Sai-fon, meaning “small phoenix.”
13. Man of Many Names
In total, Lee had four Chinese names. In addition to Lee Jun-fan was Lee Yuen-cham, his family name, Lee Yuen-kam, the name he used as a student while attending La Salle College, and Lee Siu-lung, which was his screen name.
14. Little Dragon, Big Fight
Lee Siu-lung means “little dragon.” This nickname stuck with him throughout life and was given to him originally by his little sister because he was born on both the hour and year of the Dragon.
15. No Match For Lee
In 1958, while in high school, Bruce Lee entered the Hong Kong boxing tournament for school children. Surprise! He won the final by knocking out the previous year’s champion.
16. Small Budget Fury
Fist of Fury made Bruce Lee into a star and it took only four weeks for it to break Chinese box office records. Though it made a huge sum of money, it was produced on a shoestring budget of only $100,000.
17. Work/Live Situation
Lee’s first job in the United States was as a live-in waiter at the first restaurant of Ruby Chow in Seattle.
18. Dramatic Studies
Bruce Lee went to college at the University of Washington. Though he would later claim he majored in philosophy, he actually majored in drama.
19. College Dropout
After opening up his first martial arts school in Seattle, named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute—meaning Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu—he dropped out of college and moved to Oakland. He opened up his second school in Oakland and worked with James Yimm Lee, who would be Lee’s mentor. He attracted many students because, as we now know, he had a style that no one had ever seen before.
20. Afraid of Water
Bruce Lee wasn’t a fan of swimming pools. This was because as a child he teased his sister by pushing her into a pool. She then reacted by taking him and holding his head underwater for a long period of time, making him promise to never do it again. Not only would he never do it again, he wouldn’t even go near a swimming pool after.
21. No More Gung Fu
Even though the term in Cantonese is “Gung Fu,” the western world knows it as “Kung Fu” because of James Lee. When Bruce Lee asked him why he wrote it this way in his books, James said he felt it was easier from American’s to pronounce correctly.
22. Not Fit For War, Apparently
Though he could kick anyone’s butt, Bruce Lee wasn’t fit for the Chinese army because of an undescended testicle. This allowed him to skip the draft.
23. Just The Tip
If you’re a guy, you may want to skip this one. Upon returning to Hong Kong, when he was already 22 years old, his father requested that he become circumcised, to which Lee obliged.
24. Secret Wedding
When Bruce Lee married Linda Emery in 1964, it was on the down-low. They got married after she got pregnant, and they had a shotgun wedding.
25. Thanks To The Green Hornet
Out of all things, The Green Hornet was what introduced the United States to Kung Fu, when Bruce Lee played the character of “Kato.”
26. Too Fast, Too Furious
While filming, Bruce Lee had to often slow down his motions because he was simply too fast and the camera would only pick up a blur.
27. His Own Style
Bruce Lee called his personal fighting philosophy “Jeet Kune Do.”
28. All Around Artist
Bruce Lee wasn’t just a martial artist but also an artist, plain and simple. He also wrote poetry and drew.
29. Bad Driver
Friends of Lee knew not to drive with him, as he was pretty bad at it. This was probably due to the fact that he had poor eyesight.
30. Be Humble
Even though he was one of the first people to use contact lenses, and eventually had enough money for any glasses he wanted, he often wore his taped up glasses from his youth. He did this as a way to stay grounded and not forget where he came from.
31. Cha Cha Lee
Not only did Lee become Hong Kong’s high school boxing champion, he also once won a Cha Cha dancing competition.
32. The Champ Is Here
Bruce Lee considered Muhammad Ali to actually be a superior fighter and would often watch his fights on repeat in order to learn from his style.
33. Pass The Dutchie
A fan of cannabis, Bruce Lee enjoyed chewing the wacky herb in the days before bespoke edibles. He was a cannabis user for over 10 years.
34. Like Father, Like Son
Before hitting it big in Hollywood, Bruce Lee was a child actor who appeared in over 20 films in Hong Kong by the time he was 18.
35. Chuck’s Break
Not only was Bruce Lee a friend of Chuck Norris, but he got him his first acting gig. While he was working as a stunt coordinator for a Dean Martin film called Wrecking Crew, he put in a good word to get his friend Chuck in a fight scene, though he wouldn’t last long, getting knocked out immediately.
36. Spreading the Skills
Lee trained many celebrities, including his good friends Steve McQueen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Coburn, Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris.
When Lee tragically passed on from an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the painkiller Equagesic, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Chuck Norris were among the pallbearers at his funeral.
38. No More Sweat
Not liking the aesthetic look of sweaty armpits, Bruce Lee had his sweat glands removed from that area.
39. My Definite Chief Aim
When he was just 28 years old, before he found international fame, Bruce Lee wrote the following vows to himself: “I, Bruce Lee, will be the first highest-paid Oriental superstar in the United States. In return I will give the most exciting performance and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting 1970, I will achieve world fame and from then onwards till the end of 1980 I will have in my possession $10,000,000. I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.” He managed to achieve all of this before his death at the age of 32.
40. The Manifesto
The low point of Bruce Lee’s career was what gave him to drive to become a superstar. After damaging his sacral nerve and suffering from severe muscle spasms and back pain, Lee was restricted to his bed for quite some time during 1969. During this time he decided to deal with the great deal of stress by writing his famous “My Definite Chief Aim.”
41. Hong Kong Change
Just because he was born into privilege doesn’t mean he didn’t have his trouble. Hong Kong was rapidly changing, as China had been under Japanese occupation for the first years of his life. After the war ended, Hong Kong went through a massive rebuilding process. This process was uneven, however, as Hong Kong was a part of the British crown, so many from the mainland fled there, which meant that it quickly became overpopulated.
42. Gang Fighting
Gangs were roaming through Hong Kong when Lee was in his youth, and he was involved in several fights early on. After one fight too many, his parent’s decided it was for the best to give him martial arts training in order to better defend himself. Maybe Will’s mom on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air should’ve tried the same thing!
43. Price On His Head
Bruce Lee was known for getting into many street fights in his youth. Too many street fights, perhaps, and eventually his parents decided it would be best for him to finish his studies in the United States—now this is closer to the plot of Fresh Prince. Part of the reason was also that the authorities believed one of the people he beat up was involved with the Chinese triads and that he had put out a hit on Lee.
44. Gone Too Soon
Lee’s passing was officially ruled as a “death by misadventure.” Over the years there have been many conspiracies about his death, including one that alleged that he was murdered in a hit by the Chinese Triad. But the most likely story is somehow more heartbreaking.
A recent biography of Lee from Matthew Polly consulted experts and claims that Lee probably died from over-exertion and heat-stroke, which wasn't well understood at the time of his passing. With Lee's sweat glands surgically removed, he was particularly vulnerable.