In Remembrance (A poem)

31 Mar

As the years have continued, there has been a need to use the opportunity of Brandon Lee’s passing to discuss and educate the public about aspects of Brandon’s life. There is little doubt that his influence is spread around the world in those he touched, but there is some discrepancy between what is factual known about his life and death, and what people often like to believe and say, especially online.

A nature lover

Brandon taken during a publicity photoshoot for Rapid Fire, 1992.

Brandon left a rich legacy behind

Brandon left a rich legacy behind

It doesn’t matter how we remember someone, only that we do. And there is no right or wrong way to do it. For those who did not know Brandon, myself included, there is a level of empathy that must be expressed to those Brandon loved that he left behind. He isn’t really our “loss” but theirs. The loss we feel is on a human and cultural level, it stays with us because Brandon so easily could of been us, or our partner, or our son or brother or friend.

His fiancee and partner, Eliza, his mother, Linda and his sister, Shannon. And the many friends and colleagues, all of whom miss their beloved friend. The 21 years no doubt that been difficult and we only hope that they understand and appreciate the fans who feel the desire to share what a difference this man has made to so many lives.  A number of years back, I dabbled in trying to put into some context a summary of his life and what his death meant to the strangers who have been impacted by Brandon. This poem I wrote in a way to honor him – in my own way as a writer and a lover of words. I have been told many times by those who knew Brandon what a great orator he was, so I do hope that he would approve of such a textual kudo to him and his legacy.

In Remembrance He lived his life with integrity and honour Never was a hero so noble as Brandon Bruce Lee His life started in the action streets of Oakland It wasn’t long till the family were in the city of Angels Watching his father kick the racial barriers of Hollywood stereotypes to the curb Where fears and prejudice belong  ****************************** His father’s death at age 8 Left a irrevocable dent It took a while to find his feet But with resilience and charm He paved his own road Different from his father’s But equally as true *************************** There were challenges of course It was hard for people to look Past the famous surname that became a built-in comma Some didn’t look past his fancy Footwork and the devilish grin But with acting in his heart and love in his soul he conquered Hollywood and all that doubted his heir-dom **************************** Still there were some adventures that would follow His rebellious ways were hard To tear away The hurt he felt inside The void for a father that could never be filled He learnt like we all do that a parent’s place is never confined to earth ************************** Where loss and anger collided and petitioned to dance away his potential love came riding to his rescue True Love had it’s say that day in 1990 When Brandon’s eyes met Eliza’s As they planned their future so bright The cards of death flickered so near With it’s arrow targeted before their Wedding was to take place  ************************* The Crow seemed like a dream A role that he devoted so much Of himself would now become his last A bullet that wasn’t really a bullet Sealed his fate and the family With Eliza he was yet to make He fought as long as could But It was a fight that his body couldn’t win He was robbed of his life and Of his wedding dance  *************************** Those he loved will never forget Nor will we his many fans His inspiration has guided us Through many a dark hour In our own struggles to be Who we were born to be ************************* Years have come and gone yet his spirit still lives on and on In those he touched and In those he has yet to On wings of love he will forever fly on… Copyright, Samantha Malagre, 2006


Shooting Star : The death of Brandon Lee

7 Jul
March 31, 2013 will mark the 20th anniversary of Brandon Lee’s passing. What really happened that fatal night, and how did this event shape the cast and crew of this now cult film?  Samantha Malagre reports on the facts behind his death and the enduring legacy he left behind. 

It was 50 of a 58 day shoot, and the crew was ready for murder.

When Australian director, Alex Proyas yelled CUT! on the set of The Crow in Wilmington, North Carolina on March 31, 1993, it was already half past MIDNIGHT, an hour behind schedule. And for a moment, the film’s leading man, 28 year-old Brandon Lee was thought to be playing a practical joke. However, his motionless body told another story – something was wrong, very, very wrong.

“Brandon, are you okay?,” asked on-set medic Clyde Baisey.

But Brandon didn’t respond.

Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, with Brandon Lee. Jan, 1993.

Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, with Brandon Lee. Jan, 1993.

Only minutes earlier, Lee had been in good spirits as he looked forward to the very last night of the action sequences in the film. The scene promised to be easy enough; a flashback death scene of the main character Eric Draven, played by Lee, and that of his girlfriend. Out of the nine sequences on the schedule that evening, this scene was the shortest.

The set for the night’s events was a large loft, equipped with industrial-style support beams, and hard wooden floors. Standing at the entrance of the set door, Lee looked the part; dressed in black leather jacket, tight corduroys, black boots – which were tapped down tight against his legs to give him a sleeker look, and a white T-shirt with the name of his character’s fictional band “HANGMAN’S JOKE” in block letters.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary.

While waiting for the rehearsal, Lee chatted with his friend and The Crow’s wardrobe designer, Arianne Phillips. Lee’s thoughts were not on the evening’s shooting, but on his wedding due to take place in less than two weeks to Eliza Hutton, his long-term girlfriend to whom he was due to marry the following month.

“He was so excited,” recalls Arianne Phillips, who had fitted Lee for his Armani wedding tuxedo only days earlier. “I remember him telling me how we were getting to Mexico and saying that we would start the party on the bus.”

The Crow was to be Brandon Lee’s breakthrough film, the story of man who comes back from the dead to avenge his and his true love’s death. The role, based on a comic book of the same name, appealed to the romantic in Lee. The part of Eric Draven was not Hamlet (something Lee had an ambition to play), but it was the closest thing to a dramatic role that the young actor had the opportunity to do on film.

As the only son of Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee, who died in 1973 of a brain edema when Brandon Lee was eight, his path to Hollywood stardom was not paved with gold. After studying theater arts at Emerson College in Boston, Lee maintained his study with weekly acting classes as he struggled to be accepted as a dramatic actor on his own terms. Bit parts in low budget action films eventually graduated into a martial arts film career, which is something Lee never wanted.

“I wanted to do Mean Streets, not Enter The Dragon,” Lee told Empire Magazine in 1992.

Brandon during an acting workshop at Lake Arrowhead.

Brandon during an acting workshop in the mid-80’s.

For years, Lee had a reputation for being arrogant, angry and somewhat reckless, he later described these traits masked the “hopeless unhappiness” he felt trying to be his own man, whilst living in the shadow of his famous father. After a few moderately successful action films, he signed to a number of studios including, 20 Century Fox and Carolco for three-picture deals.

Brandon Lee seemed on his way to achieving his acting dream.

His personal life also was looking more promising. In 1990, while meeting with Director Renny Harlin, he was introduced to Harlin’s assistant, Eliza “Lisa” Hutton. The confirmed bachelor who “never was getting married” suddenly found himself for the first time wanting to spend his time with one woman. Eventually the pair would become engaged in 1992. Hutton was described by Lee to visiting journalists as “my whole life” just 5 days before he died.

By 1992, Lee was being billed as a star in the making, and he was represented by the best people in the business. With his good Eurasian looks, chiseled jaw lines and his friendly disposition, he was the package that the producers of The Crow were looking for – at a fraction of the cost.

After reading the script for The Crow, Lee enthusiastically coveted the role of Eric Draven, telling his manager, Jan McCormack, “you have to get me this part.”

It was supposed to be the start of bigger things for Brandon Lee, not the end.

A nature lover

Brandon taken during a publicity photo shoot for Rapid Fire, 1992.

The Crow started principle filming at Carolco Studios on February 1, 1993, Brandon’s 28th birthday, and it wasn’t long before the penning-pinching oversights on the $14 million production started to be plagued by mishaps. Within weeks of the production, a stuntman accidentally fell through a roof breaking several ribs, a carpenter was electrocuted, and an unexplained fire almost destroyed one of the backlots, just to name a few of the mistakes.

Despite the problems on the set, Brandon Lee forged ahead giving his all to the role he felt would help define his career. A daily routine of three hours of make-up transformed the upbeat Lee into the brooding and menacing avenger. Some scenes on The Crow called for Lee to be barefoot in almost freezing temperatures, all which he did without complaint, impressing even the most veteran of actors with his positive attitude and professionalism.

“When I think back, I can remember how Brandon worked so incredibly hard. He worked his butt off in the freezing cold and rain,” says Lee’s co-star Ernie Hudson.

The grueling schedule on The Crow started taking its toll on Lee; there were days when he worked 19 hours straight, and fatigue and insomnia had set in. While Brandon Lee was naturally optimistic and friendly, the lack of sleep and depressing conditions on set forced him to take a closer look at the “sub-human” conditions that people were being forced to work.

On Saturday March 28, 1993, four days before he died, Lee lodged a formal complaint to his agent, Mike Simpson and manager, Jan McCormack, which was sent to producer, Bob Rosen. Rosen’s response was less than comforting, informing them that he didn’t care what they had to do to finish the role. McCormack’s last words to Rosen later became prophetic, “you guys are killing Brandon down there.”

Working extra hours on film sets is not unusual, says Mike Simpson, Lee’s then-agent at the influential William Morris Agency. But even he found this excessive when he visited the set several weeks into production.

“Actors are meant to get a certain amount of downtime between rapping one scene and starting the next. There are provisions for violating that; you pay a fine, which is called a force call payment,” explains Mike Simpson.

“But there can also be a limit on how many forced calls per week you can have and they were violating it, cutting corners.”

What Brandon Lee didn’t know that night was that the weapon actor Michael Massee was using had been loaded with a lethal charge.

Two weeks earlier, Prop Master, Daniel Kuttner, needed some dummy bullets for the 2nd unit crew to film a close up of the gun cylinder, but realizing there was no money in the budget for new dummy bullets, the unit decided to make their own using live ammunition. Kuttner (who had no prior knowledge of firearms) with Special Effects man, Bruce Merlin (who did have some knowledge), used bullets that had been originally accidentally been purchased when they were finding props for Gideon’s pawn shop set, which were then removed by Jeff Imada. After realizing that there was no more money in the budget to buy film blank supplies, Kuttner and Merlin removed the gun powder, then crimped together the bullets using hot glue. Later when the 2nd crew filmed, those members of the crew (who also had no knowledge of firearms) failed to fire off all the primers, which is the charge of a bullet, when they used the rounds for filming. One primer, for instance, had not discharged properly leaving a piece of the lead tip of the bullet with a primer in the barrel of the weapon. When the gun was needed for the fatal scene, it was re-loaded with blanks (which are harmless show bullets without any charge), causing a lethal charge that had the force of a real .44 bullet.

“It’s was actually worse than a real bullet,” says Mike Simpson, a native of Texas, who undertook his own investigation into the accident on behalf of Brandon’s fiancee and reps. “It was like two bullets firing at the same time.”

Where Carolco Studios, now GEM in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Carolco Studios, now GEM in Wilmington, North Carolina, where The Crow was filmed.

Simply, the accident could have been avoided. Actions like cleaning the gun between the dummy and blank firing could have saved Lee’s life weeks before the accident.

When Brandon Lee was shot he fell backwards and not forwards as he had rehearsed. He landed against a thick wooden door; the only exit door on that set, however, due to the force of the fall he ended up in a sitting up position. Stunt Coordinator, Jeff Imada, made his way to Brandon, initially because he suspected “that something catastrophic had happened” and stayed by Lee’s side, assisting medic, Clyde Baisey as best he could. As the set was cleared, crew members were forced to file past the barely conscious actor. The grocery bag Lee was carrying, which was rigged with squibs (a fake explosive charge), detonated, exploding the milk container and a blood pack. The effect ripped through the brown paper bag leaving a hole.

Due to the mess, Baisey found it difficult to know where the injury was coming from. They were running out of time to save Brandon’s life.

“It wasn’t until his abdomen began to swell that I knew that it must be internal bleeding,” says Baisey, who was a registered EMS medic.

Brandon Lee was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C, profusely hemorrhaging. After an X-ray, it was determined that some kind of object had lodged itself against his spine, though noone had any idea what that object was. Lee was taken to emergency surgery where doctors attempted to repair the damage to his internal organs. The bullet had severed a major artery, and his blood wouldn’t clot. The blood loss was substantial. With his fiancee, Eliza Hutton, by his side, Lee was pronounced dead at 1:03PM on March 31, 1993 – some 12 hours after being shot.

It was only after the autopsy that they found the object initially suspected as being a squib was actually “what appeared to be a bullet,” said the Wilmington Police Department spokesperson in 1993.

Rumors swirled that it was murder, or that Brandon Lee had been killed by Chinese mafia for sharing martial arts secrets of his father.  But the ballistic reports released several weeks after Lee’s death (which was never appropriately published in the media) confirmed that it had been a modified bullet, rather than a real .44, supporting the police findings.

The modified bullet that killed Lee. Picture credit: Unsolved Mysteries.

The modified bullet that killed Lee. Picture credit: Unsolved Mysteries.

“Somebody really screwed up. At some point, somebody has to take responsible, even if it’s just in their heart,” says co-star, Ernie Hudson.

Brandon Lee’s death was determined by the Wilmington Police to be an accidental death, though a negligent death and no criminal charges were filed. The North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found the production company in violation of several safety laws, fining them $84,000, as did the Actor Guild of America, who also fined them for allowing Massee to fire directly at Lee. Brandon’s mother, Linda Cadwell sued the 14 crew members in civil court who were determined to have been negligent in his death, and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount (rumored to have been $3 Million in 1993).

The Crow finished the few remaining scenes with the help of a stuntman and friend of Brandon’s, Chad Stahelski, who Lee trained with at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in Los Angeles, as well as Lee’s original stunt double, Jeff Cadiente. The film was released to critical acclaim on May 11, 1994 –  grossing $11 Million in its opening weekend.

The fame and kudos though came too late for Lee, who at just 28 years-old had lost the most precious part of this legacy – his life. The devastation his death left behind can still be felt by those who loved and were loved by him in return.

Brandon with his fiancee, Eliza (Lisa) Hutton.

Brandon with his fiancee, Eliza (Lisa) Hutton.

Brandon’s fiancee Eliza Hutton, who was just 18 days away from marrying him, has never publicly spoken about her pain; even after 20 years the wound is still too deep. The affect of his death on her life has been significant. The Crow is dedicated to the couple, who for many on the film, exemplified the true love story they all were trying to capture on-screen.

There often is criticism as to why many haven’t spoken at length about Brandon. It should be noted that like Eliza Hutton many of Brandon’s close friends prefer to also keep some of their memories private. And there is a beauty in that, considering how much Brandon respected loyalty.

There of course is also value in remembering him, even if only by strangers.

Fans use social media frequently to express their enduring “loss” that Lee’s legacy has largely become overshadowed by his death and Bruce Lee. Over 10,000 signed a petition to get Lee his own STAR on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

20 years has transpired since Lee’s death, but the affection or influence that many felt towards Lee has never dimmed. Those who knew him still fondly remember the man that ended up giving his life to a film.

The Crow started filming at Carolco Studios in North Carolina on Feb 1, 1993.

The Crow started filming at Carolco Studios in North Carolina on Feb 1, 1993.

Ernie Hudson, Lee’s co-star on The Crow says he now spends much of his year attending comic conventions, where many fans want to talk about his experience on The Crow and about Brandon Lee.

“He was a nice kid and he was so good in The Crow”, Hudson says, who first met Lee in 1988. “ I tell people that he was a talented actor and decent human being.”

James O’Barr who created the comic ‘The Crow’ admits that he had a “sort of survivor’s guilt” for years afterwards. “I wished I had never created the damn thing,” he says. “But after speaking with Eliza (Brandon Lee’s fiancée) she helped me see that what happened to Brandon wasn’t my fault.”

The Crow has become a cult hit among all age groups, and has especially resonated, says O’Barr, with people dealing with their own grief; something he has struggled with since Lee’s death.

“Moving on is part of death and grief too. You can’t stay in that anger and bitter place forever because that’s not healthy,” says O’Barr.

Brandon Lee is buried next to his father in Seattle, WA. Thousands of fans are reported to visit their graves every year.

Brandon Lee is buried next to his father in Seattle, WA. Thousands of fans are reported to visit their graves every year.

Brandon Lee’s sister, Shannon Lee, who now heads Bruce Lee Enterprises wrote in 2011, “Though I have mixed feelings about the film because of his death, he shined brilliantly and needs to be remembered.”

Jeff Imada, one of Brandon’s best friends, says that his own personal loss is not just because of his 15-year friendship that he shared with Lee.

“There is hardly a time that goes by where I don’t think of Brandon,” he says. “But for the audiences not to see more of this young man’s talent especially when he was just coming into his own is tragic.”

Brandon Lee’s legacy may just be in the lives he touched, many of whom have never forgotten what was lost that cold night in March. The Crow will forever be Lee’s epitaph, a story of a young man in his prime, that audiences will always wonder about and what might have been.

“You were making a film with a star who wasn’t yet a star – it was the weirdest thing,” says director, Alex Proyas.

*An excerpt was published in Film Ink in 2013*

The Brandon Lee Legacy: What is it?

13 Apr

“No Legacy is so rich as honesty” – William Shakespeare.

Brandon Lee’s death at the age of 28 in 1993 after a handful of films under his belt, was tragic for a number of reasons.

A legacy when someone dies can be attributed to an opulent amount of things: possessions, kinship, equity, work history. The term legacy when Brandon is mentioned is often imputed as “The Crow”, namely because it was not only his last film, but the film he was working on when he was killed. However, lets ponder this question without bias:

What is Brandon Lee’s true legacy?

Certainly his last film ‘The Crow’ is noteworthy as part of his enduring legacy, as well as his other films such as ‘Rapid Fire’. Nevertheless, the quality of Brandon Lee’s life and the passion in which he lived his life, is far more significant in regards to his worth as a human being than some of his cinematic contribution. As Billy Graham once said:

“ The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality if our lives”

When considering the question about what Brandon’s true legacy might be, there also is the idea that we must explore the complete picture, including his family legacy, his cinematic achievements, the quality of his life, and his own contribution to humanity.

Brandon Lee’s father Bruce died in 1973 at the height of his career, yet many fans of Bruce Lee often say that his legacy is not in his films, but in the teachings of his founded martial art Jeet Kune Do, and the philosophy he left behind (although that was only published after his death). In recent times, athletes in sports, from boxing to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) have referenced Bruce Lee as a reputable inspiration on them. All these elements of Bruce Lee’s legacy, his son Brandon had to learn to come to terms with while rising his own achievements.

Brandon started his career in stage, then in film, and was immediately compared to his famous father. At the early part of his career, Brandon went to great lengths to separate himself from his famous father’s fame.Many misinterpreted this to claim that Brandon was not proud of who his father was, especially in the eastern culture where there is great pride following in the parental figure’s footsteps. Brandon was always proud that he was Bruce Lee’s son, yet wanted to achieve his own dream on his own terms, without using the family name. There were many years where on the outside, Brandon, seemed (to the public observer) rebellious, even arrogant about the name and “legacy” he inherited from his father. He learned to deal with the legacy without bitterness, Brandon embraced the study of his father’s art and felt more comfortable marrying together the martial arts with his unique passion for acting (which his father did not have). Brandon in doing this, created his own legacy and his own mark on the world .

Brandon never used or exploited his father’s name, a character trait that became part of his OWN legacy that he left behind.

Brandon Lee’s last films ‘Rapid Fire’ and ‘The Crow’ are important when examining his enduing legacy. Both films exhibited parts of Brandon’s own creative ideas and talents beyond what the public saw on screen.

Had Brandon’s accident not have occurred would these films 18 years on be counted as part of his legacy?

It is debatable, but these films did in fact help Brandon achieve something for himself as an actor, and as a creative force that audiences probably can never understand. For Brandon, the quality of his work was important to him. He wanted to do the best with what he had – a perfectionist you might say. Brandon Lee’s films aren’t his legacy, there are simply apart of it. In a nutshell, Brandon Lee was not his characters, while he certainly made the parts his own, and worked with the creative teams of his last two films to ensure that the finish script was something he could live with, at the end of the day, he was different from his characters. Brandon was willing to do what he could to make sure that the project the audience saw was of quality. His cinematic legacy may lay also in the ideas and drive that pushed his art, not just the end product.

There were several milestones of Brandon Lee’s life that as an objective observer are fairly obvious. One of those is clearly the period in his life where he decided to stop carrying the impossible burden of being Brandon Lee, son of Bruce and to start living his life in the most authentic way possible. Brandon admitted in his later years that the lived with a huge “chip” on his shoulders and was not living his own life. This aspect of his life was ruled by fear – fear of expectations.

The other important milestone was finding the balance in his life where he could be who he wanted and feel the kind of acceptance that had eluded him all his life. Brandon’s whole disposition evolved from confused and rebellious, angry young actor to a more confident, happy and serenely calm actor who would accomplish his dream no matter what – but on his terms. It was throughout these changes in his life that his unique characteristics help to define part of his legacy. He was very conscious of the legacy he wanted to contribute to and eventually leave behind, of course he had no idea that it would be so soon. Yet against the odds he achieved a success that was unique his own – away from his father and away from what others expected of him. He belonged to himself.

Humanity became very meaningful for Brandon Lee. He wanted to be seen as an individual, not because he was related to someone else, or even for what he could do. What he sought is what all human beings do – a sense of belonging and acceptance. The journey Brandon went on was often long and painful, yet at the tender age of 28, he somehow was able to achieve what he once thought was impossible.

When he died there was a huge amount of grief expressed, from people you wouldn’t normally expect – Hollywood insiders and executives. Brandon was well regarded as someone who treated everyone he came into contact with respect and compassion (and as long as they treated him the same it stayed that way). He is remembered certainly as someone who loved acting and had great talent, but more importantly as someone who was a wonderful human being; who was decent, generous and kind. Brandon wasn’t perfect (no one is), but he tried to be the best person he could be and in one of his last interviews discussed the importance of loyalty, and good will in human relationships.

As an actor, he wanted to explore the many facets of human nature that can both empower and destroy – the psychology of the individual. There are aspects of Brandon Lee’s lives that fans don’t know about, and hopefully will at some point, but if his legacy has to one element, shouldn’t it be his humanity and the kind of inspiration he ultimately gave to others? No one knows what a legacy will look like after death, Brandon Lee’s legacy is rich (not in asset), but in heart.

Next time you hear someone talk about THE LEGACY OF BRANDON LEE remember that this at the very core is about a young man, who was just a man with a dream. He achieved what he did because of his own talents and not because of his genes. The true worth of a man is not always in what they produce, but in many of the “little things”, in other words, the trivial matters that eventually count as the most significant in life. Like Shakespeare did once write, it is the honesty that a individual brings to their life that a true net worth will be judged on.

18 Years Later and The Legacy Lives On…

31 Mar

When I first started researching Brandon Lee’s life and career I never dreamt it would take me where it has. A small fascination into the character of someone I was very impressed by, turned into a more focused goal after his untimely death in 1993.

When Brandon Lee died on March 31st, 1993 there was worldwide attention, namely due to the manner in which he died, as well as the fact that Brandon was Bruce Lee’s son (who died in unusual circumstances in 1973). As I read article after article from the various media sources, I became first fascinated, then annoyed at the lack of facts in the majority of the news information regarding his death. My annoyance soon turned into a profound need to find the accurate information – which increasingly became more difficult as the years went on, especially when attention from the media dissipated. The endless searching for the most accurate information available, from the best sources about Brandon and his legacy, was often tedious. Slowly over the years, the relentless research bloomed into a body of work that I am very proud of. It is honest, accurate (as much as I have been able to get my hands on), and has been done with integrity and ethics.

Brandon’s life has fascinated me because his life is the kind of story that can inspire humanity, without being superficial or patronizing.

I begun writing about Brandon’s own “legacy” in the late 90’s, to small readerships, which eventually grew. The Brandon Lee Movement was not created to communicate with fans as much as it was to educate them, and provide them with the factual details about his life.

And before I get accused of being pretentious, by “educating” I mean to inform the public. Some people might not have much practice with textual reference and the importance of evaluating information for its accuracy, but as a journalist and a teacher, I DO.

As the years have progressed, our objectives have changed slightly, and there is huge responsibility not to just his loyal fans, but to Brandon’s own memory. We also owe something to those in his life to get the facts right, as well as (I dare say) for history too.

To think objectivity and to observe that information through “real world” eyes has become paramount.

The “BLM” of course have our critics (the same people who consistently use our original research information and material for their own purposes – not always honorable I might add), but you are always bound to ruffle a few feathers (and egos) when you are doing your own thing. People get mad, threatened, jealous, vindictive, envious – you name it. I have had some amazing experiences whilst in the default position of Brandon Lee historian, but also some that could only be described as character building. The internet has become a scary place in many cases – a vicious and often apathetic environment where you have to learn where you step, because many times words are used to harm and contextual interpretations can quickly elevate into negative backlash.

Despite the backlash that many writers have to face, I still find Brandon’s life and legacy fascinating all these years later – that is in part why I continue. Brandon’s life is worth a whole lot more than the majority of coverage has provided his legacy with.

Brandon Lee was not just a pretty face; someone who could do a few moves here or there, or just Bruce Lee’s son – and these are the least interesting ideas about him. There was so much more going on underneath the facet of the Hollywood machine. And as many fans can tell you there was someone we all could and DID relate to. A life is not lived through or for someone else – or despite of it. Brandon was not an actor simply because his father had been, it was a deeply ingrained dream and a need that as a individual he needed to accomplish. Acting was so much apart of how Brandon chose to express himself – he was an artist of life and a lover of living.

Some critics might say that when someone dies, their legacy and people’s memories of them can become almost mythic. People wish to portray the deceased person in some kind of perfected light, whereby objectivity dare not reveal itself. However, I have found that the fact that as individuals we are fallible, makes the quest for an authentic life so much more endearing to humanity. Life is not perfect, there are changes at every turn, and as humans with very fragile souls, we all are transformed by the complexity of everyday living – much like a symbolic butterfly.

Brandon was a person who not only loved life but had an affinity for the human experience. He rode motorcycles, might of drove a little too fast in his ACURA NSX, he had an ego, at times he may have been even arrogant (like we all are from time-to-time), had arguments and struggled with who he was – but also at the end of his life he did exactly what he wanted. He laughed, he cried, he hurt and he loved.

Recently, I saw a program that examined the new concept in gaming called Permadeath. In Permadeath, the gamer instead of having multiple lives in the virtual world, is given just ONE life – just like in “real life”. I found this new concept interesting because at last some kind of virtual reality is starting to mirror the real world, whereby you don’t have a second chance sometimes to get something right. Life is not on pause, and it certainly is no fantasy. When you are shot in this world, you don’t get to have that opportunity to always live to see another day. As human beings, we do not know when we die and therefore everything is illuminated.

Prior to Brandon Lee’s death in preparation for his marriage to his long-time partner Eliza Hutton, he reflected on the fragility of life from Paul Bowles novel, ‘The Skeltering Sky’. The quote (originally printed on his wedding invitations) became his epitaph. It has symbolized to many fans and admirers how mundane events can hold real significance, especially when you take into account just how unexpected life can change. Tragedy, he said in an interview in 1993, often provides humans with the opportunity for growth, or it can ruin our whole view about ourselves. Humans are lazy, we don’t like to change BUT when life forces us to re-think, to move in the opposite direction, we can sometimes find out that there is whole new world that can open up – if we allow ourselves to adapt to life. The trap of conformity and fear can lead to our downfall – but the possibilities are endless if we only look at life as a gift.

Brandon’s tragedy and the message he gave us about life is one lesson we all need to learn from.

The pain of Brandon’s passing for his family and friends can never be dissolved, for people live on through memories and for what those experiences with what people have given them. There will be more than a few fans making reference to personalizing the idea when it comes to Brandon Lee’s passing, but that is also part of someone’s legacy. The fact that his life is remembered and it is cherished fondly – is more important in retrospect than any superficiality people can get carried away with.

To be loved and to be missed – in the end don’t we all crave that kind of immortal acceptance?

My late mother once said to me as a teenager, “you’ll miss me when I’m gone”, and a short-time later I had to bury her and guess what?… I do. Humans can never truly appreciate what we have when we have it, it’s all part of that ignorance is bliss idea we all are born with. However, on a personal level if someone touches your life, they will touch it forever.

Strangers or loved ones – today Brandon Lee, you are missed and we all are sure glad that you were born.

Brandon’s positive energy in life lives on through the legacy he left behind. It is our hope that more people will realize the extent of his contribution. Brandon deserves a lasting and true tribute to his own legacy.

Brandon Lee, 1965 – 1993 “A life worth Remembering”.

A Life Lived, A Life Impacted…

31 Jan
"you were there, and you were everything I'd never seen.
 You woke me up from this long and endless sleep.
 I was alone.
 I opened my eyes and you were there"
- Southern Sons

Everyone has moments of inspiration. Think back: who was the first non-family member who influenced you? Perhaps a teacher or perhaps you didn’t even meet the individual.

People are inspired and transpired by works of literature and film that impact how we view the world and ourselves. A novel can help explore the journey of the human soul through deep metaphors and sharp dialogue. A film about fictional characters can provide answers to a question in our own hearts. Words and music are more likely to impact on a person’s cognitive thought system that a simple action does, according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association.

Brandon Lee inspired many – does that shock you? Because it shouldn’t. I had a conversation not too long ago with a Bruce Lee enthusiast who despite spending many years interested, fascinated and inspired by Brandon’s father Bruce Lee, couldn’t quite understand that scores of strangers could be inspired and impacted (in a platonic way) by Brandon.

Brandon in fact insightfully influenced many to live their lives authentically, to dream, to love, to never give up and to be secure who they are. Over the last 12 years I have spoken with hundreds of people – strangers, whose lives have been changed because Brandon Lee was born. You don’t have to discover the cure for cancer, or even a new martial art to be someone who inspires others. In our own daily lives we all have that opportunity. A small gesture, a kind deed or a selfless action may prove to someone else to be the catalyst to change their life in some way.

Today would have been 46th birthday and while it may be beyond the realm of possibility to imagine what his life might look like had he not been killed, what is evident is that his life continues to impact others in a very positive light.

I recently asked on our Facebook page how Brandon had impacted people’s lives. Many expressed the most deepest of emotions to recall how exactly he impacted them. Some were influenced by his acting roles and the passion he delivered to them, others were affected by his life story and his tragic death. For most people who contributed opinions, Brandon’s own words or his unique perspective on life helped them to become a better person – or at least aspire to be.

Here are just some the stories of those individuals who were affected by the life of Brandon Bruce Lee:

Brandon had an untamable spirit that wasn’t afraid to express his passions or sense of humor. He seemed fearless to embrace life on his own terms being his own man along the way. Instead of trying to live up to expectations or becoming something or someone he wasn’t he managed to overcome so many obstacles in his life simply by just being himself. Being fearless was more than just pulling some silly prank, making someone laugh or even some silly stunt – Sandy Brookshire

Brandon was so funny and it is reflected through stories from the people that knew him best and and all of the films he chose to do, he was just coming into his own when tragedy struck. In the past it was hard for me to look back on all of that and not be bitter, it all could’ve been prevented. But Brandon didn’t seem to live his life that way, so why should I – Steph

Stepping out of his father’s shadow and creating his own legacy would have been just the start of a creative flame that would be burning bright this very day. Brandon was more than just the son of an icon, he was a creative talent that had a legacy to leave in his own right and yet through his brief career he did just that. People used to talk about him being the son of Bruce Lee yet his own talent and skill now make him his own man which is exactly how we should remember him. Creative, talented, charismatic and often larger than life, he was his own man – Dean Fraser-Phillips

Brandon Lee impacted my best friend & my life in his acting. Then, when my friend passed away the movie & Brandon Lee took on even more meaning. Finally, I learned how much of a humanitarian Brandon Lee was; we have common ground. We both were/are looking for who we were/are and found something even greater than ourselves – Rita Owens

Brandon taught me that to be who you are is important even if life expects you to be something else, he inspired me to believe that we all have a space in time , age means nothing,i lost my only son in 92 and then 93 he left us with words and a life worth remembering i am indebted to him and his father for showing me through their sharing their life with us. i walk on always till my space is gone – James Mc Keown

Brandon and Bruce have inspired me to be the best person I can be. they’re so wise, and they have helped me become a stronger & better person, and also helped me realize the potential i have. and that i can achieve my dreams if i truly want to – Lauren Cawdell

I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Brandon and his father Bruce, I might never have become an actor. Thanks to them I’ve followed my dreams and although its taken a lot longer that even I thought it would, the dream is finally shaping into reality. Eternal thanks – Daniel Whyte

Watching his interviews, it really touched me how obviously evident it was how much he loved Eliza. I have my own love and I try not to take anything for granted, as we all know how it can end in an instant – Gina Capparelli

No matter what the circumstance for the impact – however small, Brandon Lee mattered to many. When I have read another’s very mistaken view that someone’s achievements are based on how much money they make, or how old someone is when they die, or who they know – then they miss the entire compass of the landscape of dreams and life purpose.

As people, we need others. Brandon viewed human connection as very important and discussed the vital role others played in his spiritual journey. Without connections how can human beings relate and interact with each other?

A while ago I was sent a youtube link to a song I had long forgotten about. There comes a period as you mature where you move away from an experience, a person or even a song. The song was called ‘You Were There’ by Australian 90’s pop group Southern Sons. The song was released the same week Brandon died in 1993 and reflected much what I felt at the time as a 15 year old trying to comprehend how someone I admired was killed. My best friend and I sat around her CD deck (remember those?) one Saturday afternoon and played the song constantly for 4 hours. Eventually, two more good friends of ours joined us and we all reflected in complete silence on the fragility of human life – all without saying a word to each other. The song helped us communicate through the trauma of teen angst and emotional uncertainty, how we felt about mortality. Now 18 years later I was struck by the poignancy of the first verse:

“In time, I’d have told you but I guess I am too slow”

At the time I couldn’t have known how the ideas that this song implanted in my head (feeling sad for not being able to thank someone who impacted your life) would take on even greater significance for our group. Two years later, two of my friends who were with me that day were killed in a car accident, and like I felt that day in April 1993, I never was able to tell them how much they changed my life.

As I was listening to it as a 33 year old, I began to smile ever so slightly because in hindsight, I think that Brandon probably would have been touched that so many people have been affected like they have. I would like to think had things worked out differently for him that I probably might of gotten the chance eventually to send a note to say ‘Thanks” but as the character in the song sings, “I guess I’m too slow”. Perhaps we all were too slow- he was one of us but we didn’t appreciate his value until it was too late. We never do appreciate how fragile life is unless we are forced to.

Brandon’s death grounded me in the reality of life, and other deaths since then – from friends to parents – have help cement the need for me to enjoy the miracle of each day. Brandon was alive for only 28 years and while that may not be that long in the history of the world, I am grateful that he came into my life and changed the way I approached life. I never knew him, but I didn’t have to.  A stranger made me embrace living again through his words- and 18 years on I have so much to be thankful for.

In closing, birthdays are for celebrations and among all the superficial “other” kind of  tributes that no doubt will take place on networking sites. Too often they recall moments of his character rather than Brandon in his own reality. BUT perhaps there might be a person out there who can understand, even appreciate the kind of time and consideration many decent people have spent trying to convey just two basic words to someone none of us really knew.

Happy Birthday…

Self-worth and Brandon Lee

30 Oct

“Does it take a death to learn what a life is worth?” – Jackson Browne

This time of year there is always a fun element to October 31. Halloween is traditionally celebrated by those in the Northern Hemisphere by dressing up as ghosts or spirits and other un-dead beings (or even Hannah Montana these days) to symbolize an old pagan belief hundreds years ago whereby the living and the dead could be united for a night, according to mythology. In popular culture, it has moved away from these roots and is now a mass commercialization that is just one big party feast.

Nothing wrong with that of course!

The real history of the holidays like Halloween is not about spooking the neighbors or to stuff your face with candy, but to reflect on how we view death.

Similar cultural festivals exist in the days after Halloween from Mexico’s Day of the Dead to the Catholic ones of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, that commemorate the lives of deceased loved ones. This time of year is about reflection and renewal but how many honestly do this? The notion of feeling grateful for the life we live each day is something humans mostly take for granted. As I was contemplating this philosophy question, I was reminded of an old article in Fangoria Magazine written by The Crow’s screenwritter David J. Schow.

Schow was a frequent contributor to the famed horror magazine in the early 90’s and a year after Brandon Lee’s death  in 1994, he wrote a column to, in part, commentate the then up-coming film. In the article, Schow discussed the poignancy of Brandon’s passing and his own experience working with the young actor. One particular memory stands out that illustrates the importance of realizing the beauty and purpose of our lives:

Brandon and I went poking around the suite and discovered, inside a closet, a second closet hidden away behind the racks, like a secret panel. “This is what Eric needs,” he said. “A secret room.” This was the genesis of a scene in which Eric tricks Shelly, his fiancée, into climbing up to their bathroom attic, where he has laid an ambush consisting of many glowing candles and her new engagement ring. That attic was to be the repository of Eric’s art, containing everything from the fallout of his aborted wedding to the fundaments of his Crow getup and remnants to key memories of his band, Hangman’s Joke. Stashed up there, the stuff would have escaped the notice of the squatters and thieves who have passed through Eric’s abandoned and condemned loft in the year since his murder. A piece of this scene remains in the finished film (as a flashback, during a scene in which Eric sorts through the pawned rings at Gideon’s), but at the time, the “secret room” insight helped us localize the emotional core of the movie we were making.

Too often material items after death hold much more emotional significance than they never did while alive. When someone dies we hold on to pictures of happier times as if the absence of such remnants would dissipate our memories of them. Schow and Lee’s ideas about having a secret room connected to the fragility of life; one where Eric Draven could retreat to, to reflect on what he had lost, so he could see what a life was reduced to. The room would represent what a human being in the end was worth; A few pieces of scrap of paper, a few tokens photographs, but ultimately Eric would be left with the reminder that a life is so easily dissolved without reason, without purpose.

Brandon was fond of philosophy, it appealed to his introspective nature and intellect. But even he spent the majority of his young adult life seeking the question of who he was – under the facet of being Bruce Lee’s son or as an passionate actor.

What was his life worth?

Many who knew him, especially in his early days, perhaps mistakenly make the assumption that his ability to push his own physical and mental boundaries was some kind of death wish. In reality, Brandon was a young man who was in emotional pain because he felt invisible to the majority. Without titles as a human being – was he worth anything? At some point in his mid-20’s he took control of his insecurities, changed the course of his life in the right and positive direction and demanded to be counted as his own person.

Brandon did learn that his life was worth so much more than being someone’s son or simply wanting to be an actor. He was a human being whose greatest purpose was tied to the relationship he had with himself, his own self worth. Brandon found a greater purpose through the discovery of himself once he found true love, and started living not for his father or away from that shadow, but for himself.  His ability to relate to others human beings set them at ease. People were attracted to Brandon’s spirit because it appeared to have no judgment – he loved life and seemed so comfortable within his own skin.

It takes a strong person to look into themselves to see the truth, to even find the truth. These days the internet is filled with people not comfortable within their own identity, that they feel they must adopt someone else’s identity – even among Brandon’s own fans. If people can take an honest message from a fictional story like The Crow it is perhaps to live with the idea that life is fragile, but to not let it consume you.

Human beings are worth so much more than what we do for a career, what we drive or what material possessions we have managed to secure. At the end of a life, these account for so little.

We never will know what someone like Brandon Lee ultimately wanted for his life because it was stolen from him, in a moment that destroyed many around him. His energy lives on through those people and from the legacy that he has left on film. It is unfortunate that it took Brandon’s own death for so many to realize what his life was worth. He is a man deeply missed – even by people who never knew him.

Originality is Bliss…

9 May

Starting something new isn’t easy. In fact, it takes a fair amount of guts and guile to go it alone, into the unknown and just see what transpires. But it also is not more than what it is.

As I was compiling some of Brandon’s quotes during interview for research purposes, I examined more closely a statement from him to Journalist John Little that always has resonated with me as profound:

“We reduce ourselves in a certain point in our lives to kind of solely pursuing things we already know how to do. You know, because you don’t want that experience of not knowing what you’re doing and being an amateur again.”

For me, reading this quote when I was 15 was something of a marvel. While my teenage brain could certainly process the words in theory, the wisdom of these words, I wasn’t able to fully digest what Brandon was saying and to fully appreciate his words until I was an adult. I doubt Brandon himself had much concern or thought that some random teenager would read his words and become affected by its meanings. But the nature of what he was eluding to – doing an experience that you never had done before, you do find out what you are capable of achieving. It is a lesson that almost everyone can relate to.

Too often in life people judge achievement and success on everything working out to plan. However, how often do dreams happen just the way we have planned them in our minds? Very rarely. And if the dreams we did plan for don’t come true, is that failure?

People generally have very narrow views of what failure and success is. If a dream ends, people deem that a failure when perhaps they should be valuing an experience based on growth, and what quality has brought to their lives. Sometimes too other dreams develop when we start progressing through this thing we called life, just like John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you are making other plans”.

Success is in the eye of the beholder and how you deal with both success and failure also can tell you what kind of individual you are. The notion of what failure and success is was something that Brandon also had considered:

“When you come against the limitations of your will, your ability, your natural ability, your courage, how you deal with success – and failure too for that matter. And as you overcome each of these barriers , you end up learning something about yourself.”

Brandon made a very interesting observation, that being that many people will achieve what is very easy for them to do, opposed to taking any kind of risk. By not seeking to enrich their life by new experiences, people have limited their life to experiences they know,and life becomes very safe as a result where nothing much changes. Failure is not always something not working, it may also be a dream that we feel is unreachable, which may force us to go for an experience that is “safe” instead of becoming all we can be. Dreams without action are in fact just daydreams, but dreams with action that are uniquely ours, can be the kind of success. 

To be original you only have to be yourself, not an extension of someone. We don’t live for others, we live for ourselves (if we really want to be honest) and those experiences that give our lives growth and purpose. Brandon too lived for himself and had a very keen sense of self (which is what spirituality is all about). Without considering your own dreams and what you want for your own life, none of us can truly become a success or truly “alive” metaphorically. I learned a long time ago that individuality and being original was the only way you can live an authentic life and grow as an individual. Even if at times people may not understand what you do, by believing in yourself and developing in your skills, you can only ever be a success.

Without even recognizing who you are and why you do what you do, are you even an individual anymore?

Don’t do what is safe, believe in what you dream and then make sure it really is what you want. So many people hurt themselves and hurt others because they don’t like who they are, or they blame others for their own failures. Take responsibility and live the life YOU want – perhaps that is what Brandon was saying. By becoming a “child again”, as Lee said, you really are learning more about who you are, and who you aren’t. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you lived or you just played it safe.