Remember the Dragon: 10 Bad-Ass Bruce Lee Facts You Probably Didn’t Know
On the eve of his 75th birthday, bow down to the ultimate martial arts master.
Bruce Lee wasn’t just the most famous martial artist of all time, he was a genre-defining action star and borderline real-life superhero who literally kickstarted a global fascination with kung fu, karate and other martial arts. Lee’s groundbreaking jeet kune do fighting style famously inspired modern-day MMA, fueling the lingering mystique of Lee’s legacy even today.
Lee—who died in 1973 at age 32 after a freak reaction to a prescription painkiller—would have turned 75 on November 27. In honor of that landmark birthday, here are 10 bad-ass Bruce Lee facts:
1. He came to America to escape the Chinese mob.
Legend has it that a teenage Lee, who was born in San Francisco but grew up studying under a kung-fu grandmaster named Yip Man in Hong Kong, was sent back to America for his own safety after he beat up a guy with ties to the Chinese mob.
2. He had an unstoppable punch:
In a now-mythic 1967 demonstration, Lee threw eight punches at 10th-degree black belt Vic Moore, who failed to block them all eight times—even though he knew they were coming.
3. His martial arts students included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve McQueen and James Coburn:
Lee even cast the 7-foot-2 Jabbar in a fight scene opposite him in Game of Death. McQueen, Chuck Norris and Coburn were among the pallbearers at his Seattle funeral.
4. His movies had to be slowed down to see all the action.
Lee was so blindingly fast, his fight scenes were played at a slower speed so they weren’t a complete blur on camera.
5. He was an incredible dancer.
Lee even won the 1958 Hong Kong Cha Cha championship. Here’s some rare footage of the martial arts master doing the Cha-Cha here, if you’re into that kind of thing:
6. His corpse can be seen in Game of Death:
Lee’s lifeless body is glimpsed in a casket scene in his final, 1978 film, which was cobbled together from the 40 minutes of footage shot before he died. Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to Lee’s iconic yellow jumpsuit by having Uma Thurman wear a similar get-up in Kill Bill.
7. Even Chuck Norris bowed down to Lee’s martial arts supremacy.
When asked who would win in a real-life fight to the death, his Way of the Dragon co-star Chuck Norris admitted, “Bruce of course, nobody can beat him.”
8. He did amazing things with chopsticks and coins.
To sharpen his reflexes, Lee would supposedly toss up a grain of rice and snatch it mid-air with a pair of chopsticks. He also liked to grab a coin out of someone’s hand and replace it with another coin in one super-fast motion. Unfortunately, there is no video evidence of either move, but we’d like to believe he performed both tricks on the reg at parties.
9. He was an absolute fitness fanatic:
Lee was in ridiculously good shape, routinely performing one-handed push-ups using only his thumb and index finger, 50 one-armed chin-ups at a time, and holding the incredibly difficult “dragon flag” position for extended periods to build his rock-hard core. Do his abs look even more shredded with an awesome mustache? You be the judge.
10. He was such a legend, that a bunch of “Brucesploitation” flicks were released after his death starring similarly-named actors.
While former Enter the Dragon extra Jackie Chan went on to have a massive action movie career, there were plenty of shameless Bruce Lee pretenders—including Bruce Li, Bruce Le, and Bruce Lai—who starred in crappy knock-offs to capitalize on his fame. Check out this trailer for 1981’s Enter the Game of Death, starring Bruce Le: