The “definitive” (The New York Times) biography of film legend Bruce Lee, who made martial arts a global phenomenon, bridged the divide between eastern and western cultures, and smashed long-held stereotypes of Asians and Asian-Americans.
Forty-five years after Bruce Lee’s sudden death at age thirty-two, journalist and bestselling author Matthew Polly has written the definitive account of Lee’s life. It’s also one of the only accounts; incredibly, there has never been an authoritative biography of Lee. Following a decade of research that included conducting more than one hundred interviews with Lee’s family, friends, business associates, and even the actress in whose bed Lee died, Polly has constructed a complex, humane portrait of the icon.
Polly explores Lee’s early years as a child star in Hong Kong cinema; his actor father’s struggles with opium addiction and how that turned Bruce into a troublemaking teenager who was kicked out of high school and eventually sent to America to shape up; his beginnings as a martial arts teacher, eventually becoming personal instructor to movie stars like James Coburn and Steve McQueen; his struggles as an Asian-American actor in Hollywood and frustration seeing role after role he auditioned for go to a white actors in eye makeup; his eventual triumph as a leading man; his challenges juggling a sky-rocketing career with his duties as a father and husband; and his shocking end that to this day is still shrouded in mystery.
Polly breaks down the myths surrounding Bruce Lee and argues that, contrary to popular belief, he was an ambitious actor who was obsessed with the martial arts—not a kung-fu guru who just so happened to make a couple of movies. This is an honest, revealing look at an impressive yet imperfect man whose personal story was even more entertaining and inspiring than any fictional role he played onscreen.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
More than four decades after his final kung fu moves, Bruce Lee's legacy is as formidable as ever—and justifiably so. An international icon when he died at age 32, Lee helped popularize martial arts in North America. Bruce Lee: A Life chronicles his meteoric rise from troubled Hong Kong youth to popular teacher to telegenic renaissance man and Hollywood star. Drawing from extensive research and interviews, journalist Matthew Polly—the author of American Shaolin—reaches past Lee’s tough, movie-poster persona to paint a fully fleshed-out portrait of the man.
This thorough, well-sourced biography from Polly (Tapped Out) is an engrossing examination of the life of a martial arts movie star and his shocking, early death. Lee was born in San Francisco in 1940, but his family moved to Hong Kong shortly after his birth. He started acting there as a child, and at age 16 began studying under kung fu master Ip Man. In 1959, Lee moved to Seattle in pursuit of a career acting and teaching kung fu. He landed a few roles in American television series such as The Green Hornet, but, eager for better roles, he moved back to Hong Kong, where he starred in such action movies as Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon. Polly describes Lee as a patron of kung fu who "sought to straddle East and West" yet routinely faced racism (relatives of his wife, Linda, refused to attend their wedding in 1964). He possessed a volatile temper, a dangerously obsessive work ethic, and a propensity for extramarital affairs. In 1973, Lee collapsed and died while dubbing dialogue for Enter the Dragon, and Polly is especially strong as he sifts through the sensational aftermath of Lee's death, rejecting tabloid rumors that he died in an actual fight and outdated medical opinions of death by "cannabis intoxication" in favor of the more logical cause heatstroke, given Hong Kong's heat wave that day. In what is certainly the definitive biography of Lee, Polly wonderfully profiles the man who constructed a new, masculine Asian archetype and ushered kung fu into pop culture.