The son of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee and his wife Linda, Brandon Lee did not plan to become an action star like his father. A professionally trained actor, he hoped to play mostly dramatic roles. But, like the older Lee, he was a skilled martial artist and used this talent to break into the movie business. Brandon's tragic death on the eve of his dramatic film breakthrough was both eerily reminiscent of his father's untimely demise and a tremendous loss to movie fans.
Born on February 1, 1965 in Oakland, CA, Lee spent his early years in Hong Kong, where he learned Cantonese and studied the martial art of Jeet Kun Do. He was only eight when his father died suddenly of a brain edema, and his mother moved Lee and his younger sister Shannon back to the States. They settled first in Seattle and then in Rolling Hills, CA, where Lee acquired the reputation of a troubled, wild child. He dropped out of high school twice, and was expelled from the private Chadwick School in Palos Verdes only months before graduation. After finally receiving his diploma from Miraleste High School, he studied drama at Boston's Emerson College and commuted to New York for private acting lessons at the Lee Strasberg Institute.
In 1985, after getting his feet wet in several off-Broadway plays, Lee moved to Hollywood. He worked as a script reader before landing a role in the television film Kung Fu: The Movie (1987) with David Carradine. Lee then returned to Hong Kong to appear in the Cantonese film Legacy of Rage (Long zai jiang hu) (1987). Starring roles opposite Ernest Borgnine in Laser Mission (1990) and Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) soon followed. His next U.S. vehicle, Rapid Fire (1992), had audiences on their feet with its nonstop fighting sequences (which Lee choreographed himself).
Thus, the actor was poised for true stardom when he landed the lead in director Alex Proyas' The Crow. It was his dream project: An adaptation of James O'Barr's graphic novel, The Crow promised to combine Lee's captivating stunts with a brooding gothic atmosphere and a tight revenge-driven story line. He was shooting his character's death scene on location in Wilmington, NC, when an improperly cleaned prop gun fired a dummy tip into his midsection. The tip tore through Lee's abdomen and lodged in his spine. After losing a considerable amount of blood, he died on the operating table at New Hanover Regional Medical Center at 1:04 P.M. on March 31, 1993.
Lee, who had planned to marry his longtime girlfriend that April, was laid to rest next to his father at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle. His friend Polly Bergen held a memorial service for Lee at her California home. Over 400 people showed up to pay their respects to the young actor, including Kiefer Sutherland, Steven Seagal, David Hasselhoff, and David Carradine. After much deliberation, Proyas and his production team finished The Crow as a tribute to its star. Distributed by Miramax, the film opened in 1994 and sold out theaters across the nation. It amassed quite a following, inspiring a television show and two sequels and transforming Lee into a cult hero.