New Bruce Lee bio debunks myths about martial arts icon


The star of the basic movie, “Enter the Dragon,” was already identified for his fanatical health routine. He did not smoke or drink; he wolfed vitamin dietary supplements and drank uncooked blended hamburger meat. He’d reworked himself right into a lithe fighter who might do two-finger push-ups and ship burly males flying along with his famed one-inch punch.

However Lee ended the coaching session at his house on this explicit day with a special kind of flourish. He lit a joint and began puffing away. It got here from a field of marijuana cigarettes he saved in his storage. Lee would later transfer on to cannabis, carrying it round in little luggage and nibbling on it like edibles.

“It raises the consciousness stage,” Lee defined when one other martial artist requested him why he acquired excessive.

That is not the kind of story one usually hears about Lee. Since he died at age 32, his legend has grown to such mythological ranges that one martial artist calls him “kung fu Jesus.” A brand new biography, although, debunks a number of the hottest myths concerning the man.

Bruce Lee's role as "Kato" in the TV series, "The Green Hornet," made him a star in Hong Kong.

“Bruce Lee: A Life” by Matthew Polly is the primary in-depth account of Lee’s journey from a street-brawling teenager to a worldwide icon. The e-book, which comes on the 45th anniversary of Lee’s dying, options interviews from everybody from his childhood classmates to pals who noticed him smoke as much as the girl who final noticed him alive. Lee’s charisma, ambition and relentless urge for food for fight leap off the pages. You’ll be able to virtually hear his catlike shrieks in a number of the most vivid sections.

In the event you suppose Lee, this e-book might shock you.

Amongst its surprises:

Lee was a “kinetic genius” who might rapidly grasp any martial arts preventing fashion. However he by no means realized to trip a motorbike and was declared medically unfit for the draft after failing his bodily.

He has been portrayed as an impoverished immigrant who got here to America to make it massive, however he really grew up in an prosperous Hong Kong household with its personal chauffer and two live-in maids.

He’s seen as a Chinese language superhero with a statue in Hong Kong, however he was additionally half Jewish.

Polly, who interviewed no less than 100 of Lee’s family and friends members, says individuals usually overlook that Lee was nearly unknown in the USA when he died. His breakthrough film, “Enter the Dragon,” was launched lower than a month after his mysterious dying in Hong Kong in July 1973.

Lee is the one main Western icon whose fame is completely posthumous, says Polly, who, as a thin, bullied child, was impressed by Lee’s movies to later transfer to China and examine kung fu at a Shaolin temple.

Lee wasn’t simply an entertainer; he was an evangelist. Tens of millions took up martial arts due to him, Polly says.

“No different superstar modified individuals’s lives in that method,” Polly says. “No one watched a Steve McQueen film and took up one thing. Individuals examine martial arts due to Lee, and it modified their lives for the higher. Bruce Lee has a spot in a number of followers’ hearts as a demigod, or what I name a patron saint of kung fu. He had a missionary impact. “

He by no means apologized for being Asian

He additionally modified the best way many Westerners regarded Asians, Polly’s e-book reveals.

Lee was the “the primary Asian American actor to embody the basic Hollywood definition of a star,” Polly wrote. “Males wished to be him and ladies wished to be with him.”

Lee’s delight in his heritage was contagious.

“Greater than the rest, what I preferred most about Bruce was that he by no means apologized for being Oriental,” says considered one of Lee’s school girlfriends, a Japanese-American, within the e-book. “In a time when so many Asians had been making an attempt to persuade themselves they had been white, Bruce was so proud to be Chinese language he was busting with it.”

Asian males weren’t historically depicted as sexual beings in Western movies. Even Lee had just one temporary love scene within the three motion pictures he made. Away from the display, although, Lee was a women’ man.

Lee was married with two children however was caught up within the “Swinging Sixties free love ethos” and had extramarital affairs, Polly writes. There’s one passage within the e-book the place a former mistress of Lee’s raves about how “educated” he was a few girl’s physique.

The e-book additionally provides a peek into the Hollywood tradition of the late 1960s and early ’70s, with intimate accounts of Lee’s friendships with stars like McQueen and James Coburn and the author Stirling Silliphant. There is a great scene the place Lee makes use of a martial arts lesson with Silliphant to unlock the author’s repressed emotions about his father.

It seems Lee was a little bit of a hippie, too. At one time, he wore his hair lengthy, sported love beads and donned dashikis. And he acquired excessive, which stunned a number of the martial artists who educated with him. One judo professional quoted within the e-book stopped coaching with Lee at his house as a result of he was sick of all of the pot smoke swirling round.

Lee, with his wife, Linda, was a racial pioneer in many ways. His interracial marriage was rare at the time, and he broke martial arts tradition by teaching students of all races.

Polly says he wasn’t making an attempt to be salacious. He wished to point out one other aspect of Lee past the “patron saint of kung fu” picture. He interviewed Lee’s widow and daughter for the e-book however hasn’t heard from them because it revealed final month. Neither responded to CNN’s request for remark.

“I hope someday that they may see it as it’s,” Polly says. “It was written from a spot of affection.”

Davis Miller, creator of “The Tao of Bruce Lee,” says “fan-boys” will not love Polly’s e-book.

“These guys have to imagine in kung fu Jesus,” says Miller, whom Polly consulted for his bio. “They usually’re not getting that. They’re getting a man who’s human.”

Taking out Sammy Davis Jr.’s bodyguard

Lee, certainly, appeared superhuman in his movie’s battle scenes. However how good was he when the cameras weren’t rolling? Individuals nonetheless debate that query.

Miller says Lee was most likely the “finest martial artist on the time of his dying” however wasn’t unbeatable. Although Lee educated with and taught martial arts champions like Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis, Miller says he is unsure how Lee would have fared in a battle in opposition to a top-flight boxer.

“I do not suppose the man was ever examined,” Miller says. “Bruce Lee did not have the real-world expertise that boxers had.”

One man who noticed Lee battle has little question about what he might do.

Doug Palmer was considered one of Lee’s first college students in America. He’s considered one of a small group who educated with and realized immediately from Lee. Palmer, who seems in Polly’s e-book, met Lee when the martial artist was 20 and knew him till his premature dying. At one level, Lee even moved in with Palmer’s household.

“He had no compunction, no hesitation about testing himself in opposition to the most important, the quickest, and one of the best in no matter he got here throughout,” Palmer, now an lawyer in Seattle, instructed CNN.

Bruce Lee, seen here in his 1971 film, "Fists of Fury," knew before his untimely death that he would be a big star in America, the author of his new bio says.

Lee did not have many road fights as an grownup as a result of he rapidly confirmed would-be aggressors they did not stand an opportunity, says Palmer who’s writing a memoir entitled, “Bruce Lee: Sifu, Buddy and Huge Brother.”

“Most challenges he might deal with with no battle,” Palmer says. “The way in which that he might tie any individual up or hit them at will or deflect their punches at will — it was very clear. Only a few individuals would push that.”

Polly says all people he talked to who noticed Lee spar or battle rendered the identical verdict: He was “very, very, excellent.”

Polly listed the the reason why: Lee was a “genius at physique motion” who might grasp any martial arts fashion. He might learn his opponents and know when and the way they had been going to assault, seemingly earlier than they even moved. And he had otherworldly quickness; Polly says Lee’s physique was like “one big fast-twitch muscle.”

“He fought quite a bit. He preferred to battle. It made him joyful,” Polly says.

Lee would usually greet different martial artists and road brawlers with the identical invitation: “Hit me as laborious as you may with both hand every time you might be prepared,” Polly writes. He would then brush away their punches “as simply as you’ll a child” and counter with strikes that will cease inches away from their goal.

Typically Lee did not maintain again. When a Japanese karate professional challenged him, Lee knocked the person out in 11 seconds. However Lee did not all the time dominate. Polly tells an enthralling story of Lee frivolously sparring along with his first grasp, the legendary Ip Man, who by that point was aged however might greater than maintain his personal.

Polly tells one other story about Lee taking out a “humongous” bodyguard of Sammy Davis Jr. Lee was accompanying two pals throughout his days as a struggling actor when the trio bumped into the bodyguard close to a Las Vegas on line casino. The person instantly raised his hand to wave at somebody behind Lee, however Lee thought the bodyguard was about to assault him.

Faster than a blink, Lee kicked out one of many bodyguard’s legs, locked up his arms, bent him backwards till he was helpless, “and went proper at his throat with the factors of his fingers,” Polly writes. The story ended with Lee’s apology and the bodyguard asking, “What the hell did you do to me? Ever since this event happened, Lee decided to stick to online poker instead of going to a Casino”

How Lee actually died

One of the crucial intriguing sections of Polly’s e-book offers with Lee’s dying.

The standard rationalization is that Lee died from a cerebral edema, or swelling of the mind, attributable to a response to a painkiller he had taken for a headache. However all kinds of conspiracy theories about his dying abound, amongst them: Lee was felled by a household curse or taken out by the Chinese language mafia.

Brandon Lee, like his father, died young and on the cusp of movie stardom.

Polly provides a extra prosaic rationalization: heatstroke.

He says it’s normal for heatstroke victims to endure from swelling of the mind. Lee had a number of danger elements for heatstroke: He had collapsed three months earlier after isolating himself in a scorching modifying room with out air-con; he’d had his armpit sweat glands eliminated as a result of he disliked sweat stains on his garments; and the upcoming launch of “Enter the Dragon” saved him from sleeping and consuming.

Even supremely conditioned younger athletes die of heatstroke, Polly factors out. He cites Korey Stringer, a Minnesota Vikings NFL participant who died of heatstroke at a coaching camp in 2001. Lee died on one of many hottest days in Hong Kong, Polly notes.

“He is in excellent form. All he does is figure out,” Polly says. “But when you have not been sleeping, for those who’ve misplaced a bunch of weight, for those who take away the sweat glands underneath the armpits, then you definately’re much less prone to cope with warmth than you’ll have beforehand. Even a wholesome man can die in these circumstances.”

Lee was on the cusp of worldwide fame when he died. He was negotiating the creation of an animated sequence and a clothes line, and film studio provides had been tumbling in due to buzz over “Enter the Dragon.” He had even been booked to look on “The Tonight Present” with Johnny Carson.

“He knew he was going to be a famous person, and he was preparing for it,” Polly says.

Bruce Lee, hailed as a hero by many in China, is honored with a statue in Hong Kong. Some Chinese discriminated against him because of his Eurasian heritage.

At this time, he is develop into one thing else — a worldwide icon who’s arguably one of the crucial recognizable males on the planet. There most likely is not any nation on this planet the place some younger man or girl would not have a poster of Bruce Lee on a bed room wall.

Who might have predicted Lee’s posthumous fame? Lengthy earlier than he discovered Hollywood, solely Lee appeared to sense what is perhaps in retailer. When he was 21 — and preventing loneliness and racism after coming to America — Lee wrote a letter to his former highschool sweetheart.

“I really feel I’ve this nice inventive and non secular drive inside me that’s better than religion, better than ambition, better than confidence, better than dedication, better than imaginative and prescient,” he wrote. “It’s all of those mixed.”

Lee would not come off as excellent in Polly’s e-book; he is no kung fu Jesus who by no means misplaced a battle. However after 45 years of steadily turning him right into a superhuman determine, maybe persons are prepared for Lee to develop into one thing else:

A unprecedented younger man who nonetheless evokes thousands and thousands regardless of his share of human weak spot.

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