Born in San Francisco to Eurasian parents, Bruce Lee moved to Hong Kong when he was three. There, the young actor played tough juvenile roles in several films, using the professional name Li Siu-lung (Little Dragon). As scrappy offscreen as on, Lee learned to channel his pugnaciousness into the rigidly disciplined field of martial arts while attending St. Francis Xavier College. Returning to the U.S., Lee majored in Philosophy at the University of Washington and supported himself as a kung fu instructor. While participating in a martial arts competition in Long Beach, CA, Lee was selected to play the role of faithful valet Kato on the 1966 TV series The Green Hornet. (After his death, several episodes of the series were cobbled together into a "feature film," with Lee afforded top billing over nominal Green Hornet star Van Williams.) He received his first American film role in Marlowe (1969) on the recommendation of screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who attended Lee's kung fu classes.
Having lost the leading role in the TV series Kung Fu to David Carradine, Lee decided to prove his box-office value by starring in several low-budget martial arts efforts financed by Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow. On the strength of these efforts, Warner Bros. signed Lee to star in his signature film, Enter the Dragon (1973), which made money by the truckload. He made his directorial debut in what many consider his best film, 1973's Return of the Dragon. It would be the last film that the actor would complete. While in Hong Kong filming The Game of Death, Lee collapsed on the set, apparently suffering an epileptic seizure. After taking a pain killer, he fell asleep -- and never woke up. Rumors still persist that Lee was killed by a group of kung fu experts who resented the actor for exposing their "trade secrets" to the world. Whatever the circumstances of his death, Lee's legend did not die with him. For several years thereafter, "new" films appeared composed of outtakes and stock footage from previous Lee films; in addition, audiences were subjected to scores of imitators, most of them with soundalike names (Bruce Li, Bruce Le, et al.) In a grimly ironic twist, Bruce Lee's son, actor Brandon Lee, also died under mysterious circumstances while making a film in 1993.