Thursday, November 09, 2017

49. The Life and Tragic Death of Bruce Lee by his wife, Linda

I am a huge Bruce Lee fan.  I would go so far as to say that he is one of my major life influences.  He put me on the path that led me to be the man I am today (for better or for worse).  I first heard about him when I was 8 or 9.  I was part of a crew of little middle-class whiteboy roughnecks running the mean streets of Rockridge in Oakland, California.  We even had a gang name, the Thomas Avenue Terrorists (our symbol was a dagger in a pool of blood), ah, the 70s.  There was a golf course around the block from us and somehow we fell in with this guy who was the caretaker/security guard.  I don't think he lasted very long in the job because he was only around a few weeks (plus we were quite likely the kinds of people he was supposed to be guarding against; we used to wild on that golf course including hiding behind the sand traps and stealing balls as they came on to the green).  Anyhow, one of the times we were hanging out with him behind his bronze sedan, he said "I bet I know somebody you kids are into: Bruce Lee!"  Well, actually I had never heard of him before, but we all pretended like we knew who he was and that we were into him. 

It must have planted a seed because a few years later, after having moved to Vancouver Island, I was a full-on kung fu nerd, trying to suck up as much martial arts books, magazines and videos I could get my hands on.  That was not much at the time.  My friend Mike Tanaka and I used to practice our kung fu kicks on his trampoline (he had much better form than I did) and play all kinds of ninja games.  One of the greatest things ever of my young adolescent life was when the Famous Players theatre at Woodgrove mall had a double bill of Enter the Dragon and The Big Brawl.  This was a mainstream first run classic mall theatre (Arthur was the biggest hit they had and it played for weeks; I still don't understand why that movie was so loved in Nanaimo).  I don't know who was the person responsible for scheduling this double bill, but you did a wonderful thing.  My mom took me and Mike to see it (which also was a wonderful thing).  Mind blown.  I perfected my Bruce Lee growl for hours after that and can still do it quite well today.  Later as a young man I got deep into the Hong Kong movie fandom of the 90s and also did martial arts for pretty much most of my adult life.  I even went to China with one of my schools and visited the Shaolin temple. 

So it was pretty cool to go back and read about Bruce's life from Linda's perspective.  I thought this book was going to be a bit cheesy, but it's really straightforward and seems basically honest.  Linda Lee comes out of a different era and implicit in her love for Bruce was the assumption that she would be the quiet rock who took care of the kids.  She was good at it and their opposite personalities worked well together.  Bruce really seemed to love and depend on her, especially when his fame became so massive that he couldn't even leave the house and couldn't trust that anybody liked him for himself anymore.  She seems like a really solid, intelligent and good person.  You have to feel for her that her husband died tragically just as he was about to launch one of the greatest movies of all time and then loses her son in a film accident nineteen years later.  As they say, it just seems so unfair.  And yes Enter the Dragon is one of the best movies of all time.  Come at me.

Bruce Lee was amazing.  Reading about his life today and he almost seems like a parody of the self-actualizing Hollywood success story.  The truth is that he was insanely gifted, insanely charismatic and insanely motivated.  He called his success years before it happened.  He wrote down things like "I am going to bring Chinese gung fu to America" and "I am going to make x millions of dollars and become the first international asian movie star" years before they happened.  It was also really cool to read about his wild teenage years in Hong Kong.  It reminded me a lot of the opening scenes from Bullet in the Head.  He really was a teenage badass.  He got kicked out of a bunch of high schools and wasn't going to make it into college. Though quite delinquent, even back at that young age he was all about bettering himself and he eventually ended up under the tutelage of Yip Man where he learned Wing Chun.  Because he was born in San Francisco (his dad was a successful opera star and had been touring the U.S.) he had an opportunity to immigrate to the U.S.  There, he translated his aggressive teenage self into a super-focused young man, did well enough at a technical high school in Seattle to make it to University of Washington where he met Linda.

Watch and learn:

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