He may have never reached the heights that his father did but there is no denying that Brandon Lee was on his way to superstardom before his tragic and untimely death. Lee had quite the shoes to fill and the shadow to overcome, and even though he wanted to carve his own path, he couldn’t resist giving in to his natural abilities. He may have left us before fully reaching his potential and his prime but regardless, he made the most of his time and he left a legacy that may be unfinished but is more than satisfying in its own right. Gone but never forgotten, the underrated and arguably underappreciated life of Bruce Lee’s son deserves a closer look! Here are 26 tragic facts about Brandon Lee.
Brandon Lee Facts
1. Born With a Shadow
Brandon Lee was born on February 1, 1965, in Oakland, California. He already had enormous shoes to fill, as his father was none other than martial arts legend and action movie hero, Bruce Lee.
2. Air Miles
Lee didn’t stay in California for long, as he chose to live in Hong Kong with his dad. He would later have to move back to the United States and live with his mom and sister in Seattle after the death of his father, which happened when he was only eight years old.
3. First Time for Everything
Brandon Lee had a lot of acting firsts in his short-lived career as he worked his way through various formats of entertainment. In 1986, at the relatively young age of 20, Lee would not only make his professional acting debut in the TV Movie, Kung Fu: The Movie, but he would also appear in his first feature film, Legacy of Rage, that same year.
However, it was a Cantonese film shot in Hong Kong, so his American feature film debut didn’t come until 1991 when he starred alongside Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo.
4. Renaissance Man
In total, Lee had nine acting credits to his name spanning across various mediums. He appeared in two TV series and had roles in one TV movie and six feature films.
5. Lasting Impression
Lee won two acting awards—posthumously—for his role in The Crow, as the titular character. He received Best Actor from the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards and Best Male Performance from the MTV Movie Awards. The only other award he was nominated for in his short career was for Best New Performer at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1987 for Legacy of Rage.
6. Test Your Might
Brandon has quite the connection to the video game franchise Mortal Kombat. The character Liu Kang was inspired by his dad, Bruce, and Brandon was originally cast to play Johnny Cage in the 1995 film adaptation of the game before his death.
7. He Has the Face for It
Brandon was approached to play his dad in the biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, but evidently turned it down. He would later explain his reasoning in an interview stating, “It’s strange to play your own father, you know? I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it.” However, Lee admitted that if the role were offered to him later on in his career, he would have given it more serious consideration.
8. Imitation Is Pale
It’s possible that Brandon Lee could have been an even bigger action star before his death but he claimed he turned down multiple roles in actions movies because he didn’t want to be typecast. He even admitted he initially wanted to stay away from action films all together to take on more serious roles and carve his own career path.
9. Too Cool for School
After his father’s death, Brandon Lee went from mild-mannered boy to troublemaking teenager, which led to him getting kicked out of two high schools and dropping out of a third.
10. In and Out
During his short time at Emerson College in Boston—where he studied drama—if Lee wasn’t in class he was commuting to New York for acting classes. He eventually dropped out after one year to pursue acting full-time. His time at college wasn’t a complete waste, though, as he got the chance to perform the one-man play Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
11. Flock to the Theatre
The Crow was number one at the box office its opening weekend, bringing in $11.7 million, with a total gross of $50 million on a $14 million budget. At the time, it was the biggest opening ever for a Miramax film, but since then has dropped to number 14 on the list.
12. Days Away
Brandon Lee’s filming schedule for The Crow was quite intense, as it consisted mainly of night shoots six days a week. The schedule was so grueling that Lee would joke that the seventh day was for drinking. To make matters worse, he was on the home stretch of filming before his death, as they were on day 50 of a 54-day shoot.
There would have been no more night shoots after that one as well, as the remaining scenes left to shoot were flashbacks to happier times.
13. A True Showman
According to Lee’s friends, comedy films were not out of the realm of possibility for him as he was genuinely funny and quite the prankster. He reportedly once drove a hearse around Los Angeles for the fun of it. Apparently, he also didn’t care for front doors, as he would frequently scale his friend’s houses so he could enter through the upstairs window.
14. Skin and Bones
To prepare for the lead role of The Crow and look the part, Lee reportedly dropped 9 kg (20 lbs), weighing 63 kg (138 lbs) during filming. This is way too low when you take into account Lee’s six-foot frame. To stay in that physique, Lee’s workouts would consist of half an hour on the StairMaster, followed by light barbell lifting.
15. Other Options
Christian Slater was originally slated to play the titular character in The Crow but they couldn’t come to an agreement, because he reportedly wanted too much money. Texas country-punker Charlie Sexton was also considered for the part, before it ultimately went to Lee.
16. Fourth Times the Charm
After giving up on high school, Lee took some time to clear his head and spent a year hitchhiking around the United States before giving high school one last shot—sort of—by writing and passing a high school equivalency test. He once described the test as, “an insult to everybody with free intelligence in the universe,” which is his way of saying it was fairly easy.
17. More Than Meets the Eye
The creator of The Crow comic—James O’Barr—was originally not on board with the casting of Lee in the titular role, as he felt that Lee was “too sweet” to pull of the vengeful character. However, all that concern went out the window the second he saw Lee in the full costume with face paint and everything and immediately knew the studio made the right choice.
18. Red Herring
The Crow seemed to be cursed from day one, with multiple crewmembers getting injured throughout production. On top of that, Lee also managed to cut himself badly on a piece of sugar glass while filming a scene. Sugar glass is fake glass, so that is basically like someone cutting themselves with a butter knife. It’s possible, but should never happen.
19. Never to Young to Learn
Bruce Lee wasted no time in introducing his only son to the world of martial arts as the second Brandon learned how to walk he was learning how to kick. Brandon would also travel the world with his dad, “appearing on talks shows and performing all sorts of martial arts feats.” They may not have had a lot of time together in this world, but they made sure to make the most of it.
20. Tragically Avoidable
Sadly, Lee passed away on March 31, 1993, at the young age of 28. It occurred, strangely enough, while filming his death scene for the movie, The Crow. A prop gun that was meant to shoot blanks at Lee was used earlier to shoot dummy bullets, however, it was never properly checked or cleaned before using it again. If someone had checked it, they would have discovered that the tip of a dummy bullet was lodged in the barrel.
21. Too Late
The gun was fired at Lee and that bullet struck him in the abdomen, leaving “an entry wound approximately the size of a silver dollar.” Unfortunately, no one realized anything was wrong until the director yelled cut on the scene and Lee didn’t get up. He was rushed to the hospital but the damage was too substantial to fix and he passed away.
22. Side by Side for Eternity
After his death, Lee’s body was taken to Seattle, where he was buried beside his father in Lake View Cemetery on April 3, 1993. The spot is visited by 10,000 people a year, who pay their respects and leave offerings.
23. What Would’ve Been
Before his untimely death, Lee had plans to marry his fiancée, Eliza Hutton, on April 17 in Mexico, a week after The Crow was set to wrap.
24. Level of Culpability
A two-month police investigation was launched into the cause of Lee’s death and whether or not charges should be laid on the numerous parties involved. In the end, it was determined that although negligence was clearly involved, it wasn’t at a level high enough to press charges against anyone, and the case was closed.
25. No One Should See That
After the investigation into the death of Lee, the footage that captured the moment he was shot was destroyed, and rightfully so, as to not fall into the wrong hands and end up in the public eye, something that would be nearly impossible to prevent today.
The movie Game of Death—Bruce Lee’s last film—has a strange connection with the Lee family. In the movie, Bruce’s character is an actor who gets shot for real while filming a scene after a gangster replaces blanks in the gun with real bullets, which is similar to how Brandon was killed, minus the assassination attempt aspect of it. On top of that, Bruce died before he could finish filming Game of Death, which is what happened to Brandon with The Crow.
27. Tin Foil Hats
Like his father, Brandon’s death was plagued by countless conspiracy theories, some of which even mirrored Bruce’s. One theory is that Brandon was murdered by the infamous Triad gang, due to his refusal to act in their movies in Hong Kong. Another believes the Chinese Mafia is to blame, just as a similar conspiracy theory claims they were for his Bruce’s death. There is also a straightforward theory that they were simply cursed.