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" Final Resting Place of Brandon Lee"
February 1st 1965 - March 31st 1993
Actor son of Bruce Lee
Cause of death - Accidentally shot during filming of the movie "The Crow"
Lake View Cemetery, Seattle, Washington. (next to Bruce Lee)
Brandon Lee was born in Oakland, California, to the legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, who's three quarters Chinese and Linda Emery, an American of Swedish ancestry. The family moved to Los Angeles, California when Brandon was three months old, but when offers for film roles became limited for his father, the family moved back to his father's childhood home of Hong Kong in 1971; Bruce Lee made three films there between 1971 and 1973.
When Brandon was eight, his father died suddenly from a cerebral edema. After her husband's death, Linda Lee moved the family (including daughter Shannon, who was born in 1969) back to the United States. They lived briefly in his mother's hometown of Seattle (where Bruce Lee is buried), and then in Los Angeles, where Brandon grew up in the affluent area of Rolling Hills. According to his mother, he was "a handful" - "either the teacher's pet, or the teacher's nightmare." He attended high school at Chadwick School, but was expelled for insubordination, three months before graduating. He received his GED in 1983, and then went to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, where he majored in theatre. After one year, Lee moved to New York City, where he took acting lessons at the famed Lee Strasberg Academy, and was part of the American New Theatre group founded by his friend John Lee Hancock.
In 1986, Lee got his first movie role in the Hong Kong action thriller Legacy of Rage in which he starred with Michael Wong and Bolo Yeung, who also appeared in his father's last film, Enter the Dragon. The film was made in Cantonese, and directed by Ronny Yu. It was also the only film Lee made in Hong Kong. Regarding the pressures of being the son of a legendary father, Brandon said, "You only have the burdens on you that you choose to put there."
Kung Fu sequels
Lee then returned to Los Angeles, where he worked for Ruddy Morgan Productions as a script reader. He was asked to audition for a role by casting director Lyn Stalmaster. The project was Kung Fu: The Movie, which was to be a feature-length television movie, and had been developed by David Carradine and Radames Pera (the actor who played the young Kwai Chang Caine in the original television series). Carradine and Pera had orginally planned for Pera to play the role that was eventually offered to Lee, but due to the fact that the fame and reputation of his father, Bruce Lee, had continued to grow, the role eventually went to Brandon Lee. Ironically, Carradine was chosen for the lead role for the television series Kung Fu, over Bruce Lee, due to Carradine's abilities as a dancer and the fact that, at the time of casting in 1971, he was better known. (Rumour has it that the television executives were uncomfortable with an half-Asian actor appearing so prominently on western television.).
Brandon Lee would become a pivotal figure in two television movie sequels to the series. In the first, Kung Fu: The Movie (1985), Caine (played by Carradine) is forced to fight his hitherto unknown son, Chung Wang (played by Lee). In the second, Kung Fu: The Next Generation (1987), the story moves to the present day, and centers on the story of Johnny Caine (Lee), who is the great-grandson of Kwai Chang Caine.
Lee then had a guest appearance in the short-lived American television series Ohara (1988) as Kenji, son of title character Lt. Ohara (played by Pat Morita). 1990 saw the release of his first English language B-grade film, Laser Mission, which was filmed cheaply in South Africa in 1988. In 1991, he starred opposite Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo, his first studio film and American debut.
Lee signed a multi-picture deal with 20th Century Fox in 1991. He then had his first starring role in Rapid Fire, and was slated to do two more films for them. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh wrote a script entitled Simon Says that was originally developed for Lee, but was later used as the blueprint for the movie Die Hard With a Vengeance .
In 1992, Lee landed the lead role of Eric Draven, an undead vigilante avenging his murder, and that of his fiancée, in the movie adaptation of The Crow, a popular underground comic book. About his character Lee said, "He has something he has to do and he is forced to put aside his own pain long enough to go do it."
It would be Brandon Lee's last film. Shooting began on February 1st 1993, which was his 28th birthday.
On March 31, 1993, the 52nd day of a 60-day shooting schedule for The Crow, the scene being filmed was when Lee's character was to walk into his apartment and see his girlfriend being raped by thugs. This would subsequently lead to Eric being brutally killed, along with his girlfriend, by the thugs. Actor Michael Massee, who played one of the villains in the movie, was supposed to fire a gun at Lee, as he walked into his apartment with groceries. Because the movie's second unit team were running behind schedule, it was decided that dummy cartridges — bullets that outwardly appear to be functional, but contain no gunpowder — would be made from real cartridges, which had been brought to the set, earlier in production. Bruce Merlin, an effects technician, dismantled the live cartridges by removing the bullets, emptying out the gunpowder, detonating the primer, and reinserting the bullets. This rendered the cartridges inoperative, but realistic in appearance. Merlin and his prop master, Daniel Kuttner, took initiative to create some blanks by removing live cartridges, and replacing the gunpowder with firework powder; the bullets were not reinserted. Later, a cartridge with only a primer and a bullet, was fired in a pistol; this caused the bullet to lodge in the forcing cone of the revolver. When the first unit used this gun to shoot the death scene, the chamber was loaded with blanks which had no bullets. However, there was still the bullet in the barrel, which was propelled out by the blank cartridge's explosion. Consequently, Lee was shot and severely wounded, as cameras were rolling at the Carolco Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. Seconds later, director Alex Proyas stopped the scene, but Lee remained on the floor. Stuntman (and Lee's friend) Jeff Imada ran over to him with a paramedic, and discovered a thin slit, an inch below to the right of his navel; by this time, Lee had slipped into unconsciousness, and was rushed to the hospital where doctors discovered that a bullet was the cause of the damage. They fought for five hours in an attempt to save him, but at 1:04 PM he was pronounced dead.
His funeral was held several days later; he was buried next to his father in Lake View Cemetery, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington. The following day, a memorial service was held in Los Angeles, California, at the home of actress Polly Bergen; over 200 people attended, including David Carradine, David Hasselhoff and Kiefer Sutherland. Jeff Imada, Lee's closest friend, and Eliza ('Lisa') Hutton, Lee's intended bride, were so shocked they couldn't speak, while his mother, Linda Emery, reminded everyone, "Brandon would want this to be a happy occasion; we are here to celebrate his life."
The footage of the incident was soon destroyed, without ever being developed.
The shooting was ruled as an accident, although many fans suspected foul play. (Bruce Lee's own death in 1973, at the age of 32, apparently from a reaction to an analgesic he had taken, was also considered suspicious.) Bruce Lee's character in Game of Death is shot in a similar fashion. His character, like that of his son in The Crow, returns ('from the dead', although the character did not actually die), to get revenge on his adversaries. Some fans also suspected that Lee's death was all part of a curse on the Lee family, because Lee had died nearly 20 years after his father; both deaths were very mysterious; and Brandon would also die before the release of a film that would catapult him to stardom. After his death, his mother and fiancée Eliza Hutton supported director Alex Proyas' decision to complete the movie. At the time of Lee's death, only eight days were left before completion of the movie. A majority of the film had already been completed with Lee, and only a few scenes had to be done.
To complete the film, a stunt double (Chad Stahelski), who was a friend of Lee's at the famed Inosanto Academy, and special effects were used to add Lee's face onto the stunt double. These scenes were filmed after Lee's death:
Eric Draven's death in flashbacks (this was the scene Brandon was filming, at the time he had died); a scene with Eric walking into his apartment after returning from the dead was digitally composited from a scene of Lee walking into an alleyway with raindrops added (the rest of the scenes in the apartment were all done with the double);
Lee's face was digitally composited onto the stunt double when Eric puts on make-up in front of a mirror, and walks towards the broken down window of his apartment; when Sarah (Rochelle Davis) visits Eric, his face is not seen as it is actually the stunt double.
The Crow was finally released in May 1994, and became a box office smash. The film is dedicated to Lee and his fiancée Eliza Hutton. They were to have been married on April 17, 1993, in Mexico. Lee is survived by his mother and sister.
In an interview just prior to his death, Brandon quoted a passage from Paul Bowles' book The Sheltering Sky that he had chosen for his wedding invitations; it is now inscribed on his tombstone:
"Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you cannot conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless..."
In 1990, Brandon met Eliza ('Lisa') Hutton at director Renny Harlin's office, located at the headquarters of 20th Century Fox. Hutton was working as a personal assistant to Harlin, and later became a Story Editor for Stillwater Productions, in 1991. Lee and Harlin shared an agent at the time, at William Morris Agency. Lee was immediately smitten, and soon the two were very much in love. They moved in together in 1991, and became engaged in November of 1992.
They were to be married in Mexico on April 17th, 1993, a week after Lee was to complete filming on The Crow, - and just 17 days after he died. At the time of Lee's death, Hutton was working as a Casting Assistant, and was on set of his film The Crow so much that she was later credited with being Brandon's on-set assistant. After his death, Hutton petitioned to have safety gun regulations tightened on film sets.