Profession (s): Actor, martial artist, philosopher, instructor
Education: B.A., Philosophy, 1963, University of Washington
Award(s): 1958, Boxing Champion; 1997, #100 top movie star, Empire Magazine’s Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time; 1999, named one of the 100 most important people of the century, Time Magazine.
Contribution(s): Martial Arts Master Bruce Lee was an American icon who popularized the martial arts film genre in the West. Bruce starred in films in Hong Kong and the United States, sparking a continuing interest in Asian martial arts and Asian cultures in general in the West. Having studied philosophy at the University of Washington, he wrote several books on the philosophy of martial arts. He founded the Jeet Kune Do style of martial arts. To this day, Bruce Lee is seen as the most influential martial artist of all time by many.
Born in San Francisco while his parent’s Cantonese opera troupe was performing there, Bruce Lee was raised in Hong Kong, but returned to the US as an adult to pursue an education at the University of Washington in Seattle. After an impressive demonstration at the 1964 Long Beach Karate Tournament, Lee was brought onto the television series, The Green Hornet as the sidekick, Kato. By the end of the show’s first and only season, Lee was receiving more fan mail than the star, Van Williams. After guest appearances on several shows, Lee pitched his own series called, The Warrior to Warner Bros. His idea was turned down; a Chinese leading man was too risky for Hollywood.
Unhappy with his supporting roles, Lee returned to Hong Kong. Lee’s first film as a lead was, The Big Boss (1971), which catapulted him into stardom, breaking box office records throughout Hong Kong and Asia. His next two films, Fist of Fury (1972) and Way of the Dragon (1972) had similar success. His success in Asia finally impressed Warner Bros which agreed to co-produce Enter the Dragon in 1973. Bruce Lee died of a cereberal edema shortly before the film was released, but the film made him a star in the United States and all over the world. His Hong Kong films were re-released in America to equal success.
Bruce Lee was not simply a movie star, he broke the barriers of American stereotypes of the Chinese, which classified them as weak and docile. He proved a Chinese man could be a lead actor in an American film. He taught film stars in his Los Angeles martial arts school such as Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He trained with Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and Mike Stone.
During their time with Lee, they won every Karate Championship in the United States; Lee himself did not compete professionally. Dana White, president of the popular mixed martial arts league, Ultimate Fighting Championship, called Lee the “father of mixed martial arts.” His short film career firmly embedded him in American culture; Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most important people of the 2oth century.