A new biography released by publisher Simon & Schuster titled “Bruce Lee: A Life” written by Matthew Polly is revealing some new and lesser known details about the iconic martial arts and Hollywood legend 45 years after his passing.
The biography covers the background of Lee’s parents, his Eurasian mother who came from a powerful Hong Kong family and a father who was an actor, as well as his troubled youth and the beginning of his Wing Chun training.
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The book also dives into the controversial details surrounding his passing, including his use of marijuana and his alleged affair with the actress he was with when he passed, Betty Ting Pei.
During my interview with Guru Dan Inosanto, he revealed that Bruce Lee was not only a master in the ring but also in the car: “With me, he was a backseat driver. When I’d drive, Bruce’d go, ‘No, no, no, you should have changed lanes before. Your timing is bad.'” pic.twitter.com/n8ZPdCNMbO
— Matthew Polly (@MatthewEPolly) May 21, 2018
Polly spent a decade writing the book and interviewed more than 100 family members, friends, and business associates of Lee.
Polly told AsAmNews of Lee’s struggles with discrimination as well as speculated what Lee’s life would have been like had he lived:
“The discrimination he faced was incredible. No one, not even his closest friends like Steve McQueen or James Coburn, believed hecould become a star in Hollywood. One of his friends, Stirling Silliphant, told him, ‘You are Oriental in a White man’s world. It is not going to happen.’ And then Bruce proved them all wrong. Bruce had incredible determination and will power. He never gave up, and he worked harder than anyone else. That’s why he succeeded.
“If he had lived, I think his career would have followed the path of Clint Eastwood. Bruce wanted to be a bigger star than Steve McQueen, but he modeled his career on Clint Eastwood’s. Like Clint, I think Bruce would have continued acting in movies in different genres (not just kung fu) for another decade or two. But as he got older, I think he would have moved behind the camera as a director and producer. For Bruce, being in control of his art was more important than the fame associated with being an actor.”
In a separate interview with Inkstone, Polly gave his thoughts on why Lee would be angry with the state of Asian actors in Hollywood today:
“I think he would be really angry that there aren’t more Chinese stars in Hollywood. It’s impossible to think of a romantic hero who is Asian. He would be shocked that it is 45 years since he first starred in a Hollywood movie, and yet there still isn’t someone who’s playing heroic, romantic leads – which was what he wanted to do.”
His love of marijuana likely stemmed from his dislike of alcohol — McQueen introduced Lee to the drug, and the rest, as they say, is history. According to “Enter the Dragon” costar Bob Wall, Lee would require two weed brownies before he would calm down “into a normal person,” and, at a house party, he went around to all the guests to pass them their own individual blunts. When someone pointed out that this was overkill, as most people would only need one or two hits before passing it to the next person, he responded, “No need to share. I want everyone to have their own.”
Polly interviewed Lee’s wife, Linda Lee, his daughter, Shannon Lee, his sister, Phoebe Lee, as well as Betty Ting Pei.
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Polly revealed that neither Linda Lee nor Shannon Lee have written a positive critique of the book for the biography’s foreword or jacket.
“I have not heard from Shannon or Linda how the feel about the book. I hope they like it and feel that I have honored his legacy.”
Betty Ting Pei, on the other hand, was very forthcoming with Polly:
“After all these years of being quiet, I think Betty was ready to tell the truth about her relationship with Bruce. I did three interviews on three separate days—about 12 hours in total—with Betty at the Peninsula Hotel. She was very kind to me—she wouldn’t let me pay for any of the meals! I just let her talk, and I listened.”
Polly also revealed Lee’s Jewish ancestry in his Inkstone interview:
“We’ve known for a long time that Bruce Lee was Eurasian, and most people assumed he was a quarter German. His ancestry was actually Jewish. His great-grandfather was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, so he had Dutch-Jewish ancestry. His grandfather had an affair with a British woman. Bruce was a quarter English, an eighth Dutch-Jewish and five-eighths Chinese. Sir Robert Ho-tung, the richest and most influential man in colonial Hong Kong, was his great-uncle.”
“You can never know for sure, but my theory is that Bruce Lee died of heatstroke. Ten weeks before his [passing], Lee collapsed when he was dubbing sound for a movie. They turned the air-conditioning off and it was one of those super hot Hong Kong days. He was saved after being rushed to the hospital. The second time, he laid down and didn’t wake up again. The autopsy found out that he had suffered from brain swelling, which can be caused by heatstroke. About a month before his first collapse, he had his underarm sweat glands surgically removed because he thought sweaty armpits looked bad on film. The overwork also made him physically vulnerable. He had not been able to sleep and had been losing weight before his [passing].”
Polly’s book “Bruce Lee: A Life” is now on sale.