Bruce Lee is perhaps the most influential Asian entertainer and martial artist of the last century. Aside from his achievements in martial arts, his work in Hollywood essentially changed the perception of how Asians were represented in American films and viewed by Western society.
Unfortunately, his success was short-lived as he passed away in 1973 at the young age of 32. His death was allegedly due to an allergic reaction to medication a friend had given him for a headache. His son, Brandon Lee, followed his footsteps and had his own success in Hollywood before he was tragically killed in an accident on set.
Today, Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter and last surviving descendant of the late superstar, has dedicated her life to ensure his father’s teachings live on in this fast-paced new media generation.
“The goal for me in all of this has always been to not just preserve my father’s message, but share his message,” Lee told NextShark.
While she was only four years old when her father past, she remembers glimpse of him in her memory. However, there’s one thing that she remembers as clear as day.
“The memory that I have of him that is very clear is his presence, what it was like to have his attention, love and focus. You know from watching the movies that his energy is palpable. It jumps off the screen even still today when you watch his movies. You can feel it. Imagine having that amplified right in front of you and then also just filled with love.”
While Bruce Lee was a loving parent, he was also a strict tiger dad, according to Shannon Lee’s recollection.
He used to tell my mom, ‘You’re letting these kids walk all over you.’ It was all good. It made you feel safe. It made you feel really cared for.” she said.
Shannon Lee was gracious enough to invite NextShark over to the Bruce Lee office in Los Angeles. We talked about stories of her upbringing, her relationship with her father as well as Asian representation in Hollywood.
Despite what most may think, the family was in a state of financial panic after Bruce Lee’s death. While he was extremely successful, actors simply didn’t get paid that much back then.
“Back in those days, people didn’t get paid a lot of money to act in movies,” Lee said. “I don’t remember, but for the first two movies, those were contract films that my dad did under contract for Golden Harvest — he got paid $15,000 or something.”
Linda Lee Cadwell, Bruce Lee’s wife at the time, suddenly became a 28-year-old single mom to two young kids. She was forced to made the tough decision to sell her husband’s equity stake in his films in order to feed her kids.
“Because Bruce Lee is such a huge name, [people] just assume there’s so much money, but for my father, it wasn’t about money,” she said. “For him, it was about this idea of personal evolution, impact, sharing connectedness and growth — that’s what I’m about too.”
After taking the mantle of preserving her father’s memory, Shannon Lee spent almost a decade negotiating and buying back rights to her father’s name. While she succeeded in the end, she also drove herself into debt.
“We’re still trying to work on getting rid of that debt,” she said. “It’s not been an easy journey, but it’s been super rewarding and super worthwhile.”
Lee’s company, Bruce Lee Enterprises, has a pretty simple business model: They license the Bruce Lee name to approved companies to sell name brand products. Most recently, they released Bruce Tea, a drink inspired by Bruce Lee’s original tea recipes.
“I ultimately feel like my mission is one of service, which is why running these businesses. I’m not so interested in ‘business’, but spreading this message because I think it has value to humanity,” Lee said.
One of the biggest treats Lee gave us was when she walked us over to a room she calls “The Archives”. This room is basically filled with Bruce Lee’s old stuff, whether it’s film props, outfits, business cards, and other relics that belonged to her late father. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to film anything in there, but she gave us a peek at what she has.
Shannon giving us a glimpse of her father’s journal, which included his daily schedule and workout routine.
Bruce Lee didn’t see entertainment as a way to get famous or make money, but simply as a medium to spread his art, culture, and philosophy. When he became famous in Hong Kong, he wasn’t particularly fond of all the attention and fame he got.
“He really longed for being back with his close personal friends who he felt he could trust,” Lee said “It gets really complicated when people feel like you have something that they want. He didn’t like that feeling. His goal was peace of mind at the end of the day.”
Like her father with films, Shannon Lee has successfully used new media platforms to preserve and promote Bruce Lee’s philosophies to the new generation. One of her recent projects is the Bruce Lee podcast, a podcast hosted by Shannon Lee herself along with culture analyst Sharon Ann Lee about the life and philosophy of Bruce Lee.
“We really break down some of his thoughts, ideas, wisdom and not only make it in a way that people can really understand it, but also create actionable steps off of it so that you can put it in your tool kit and apply it to your life.”