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News / Life / Entertainment

Family, fans remember Bruce Lee 50 years after his death

By Tat Bellamy-Walker, The Seattle Times
Published: July 21, 2023, 7:26am
3 Photos
Fans gather in front of the statue of martial artist Bruce Lee to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in Hong Kong, Thursday, July 20, 2023.
Fans gather in front of the statue of martial artist Bruce Lee to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in Hong Kong, Thursday, July 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte) Photo Gallery

Dozens upon dozens of fans wrapped around the grave site of martial arts legend Bruce Lee at Capitol Hill’s Lake View Cemetery on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. Fans hugged and snapped selfies with his widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, while others burned incense and laid colorful bouquets at the site.

As Cadwell greeted a long line of fans with deep embraces and signatures on photographs and books, she said she is proud of Lee.

“He has influenced so many people through his words, his philosophy and his actions,” Cadwell said. “So many people have told me they were in a dark place and learned about Bruce and they have become better people.”

“That’s the most important thing that Bruce does. He spreads love and friendship and achievement,” she said.

Cadwell said she wants Lee to be remembered for how he improved the lives of others.

“He’s not just a Hollywood movie star. He is known all over the world,” she said. “If people knew more about him, they would be able to make their life better.”

Lee fan MJ Steele, who works for the Wing Luke Museum and Seattle Kung Fu Club, bowed three times after lighting incense to honor Lee at his grave. Steele said Lee made him feel empowered and seen as a young person.

“I found somebody like me on the big screen,” said Steele, who is of Filipino descent. “Studying martial arts was very good for my health. … Bruce Lee’s legacy and image was always an inspiration.”

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Lee, a Chinese American martial artist known for his roles as Kato in the “Batman” and “Green Hornet” TV series and Hollywood films, including “Enter the Dragon” and “Fists of Fury,” died at age 32 due to brain swelling July 20, 1973. Fifty years later, Lee’s legacy extends beyond Hollywood movie screens. As a global star, Lee’s rise changed the trajectory of martial arts films, which includes combating racist stereotypes targeting Asian American men in the U.S.

Lee continues to have strong roots in Seattle, where he moved in 1959 to study philosophy at the University of Washington before opening up martial arts schools to teach his own fighting style, Jeet Kune Do. The Wing Luke Museum promotes Lee’s legacy through a permanent exhibit, “Be Water, My Friend,” to explore his philosophies that captivated the world. The museum also hosts walking tours of the neighborhood, in which visitors can retrace Lee’s footsteps and eat his favorite dishes.

Now, in the decades after his death, Lee’s first martial arts school in Seattle, the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, continues to pay tribute through an annual ceremony at his grave site.

Sifu Andrew Kimura, head instructor of the school, said Lee’s legacy goes far beyond his stardom. Andrew is the son of the late Taky Kimura, one of Lee’s closest friends. While some fans revere Lee as a godlike figure, Andrew Kimura said his dad had insight into Lee’s faults and challenges but also his kindness and desire to innovate.

“What sticks with me is the love they had for each other,” Kimura said. “I know the personal side of him, the human side of him.”

During the ceremony, visitors, former students and close friends shared memories of Lee.

Marwane Bsikri, 20, of Paris said he has been practicing martial arts for nearly 14 years. In tears, Bsikri walked to Lee’s grave to pay homage to the late martial artist. He said he felt emotional seeing the man’s family.

“I’m in shock to see Bruce Lee’s wife,” Bsikri said. “It’s a dream for me.”

Molly West, 64, a fan from South Wales in the United Kingdom, said she was 14 years old when she watched Lee in “Enter the Dragon.” She’s been a lifelong fan ever since.

“The opening scene just blew me away,” West said of the movie. “From that moment, I was just hooked — martial arts, the philosophy, everything about it just changed my whole outlook on life.”

“He was [an] amazing man. He brought people of different cultures together … we all came together as one because of our admiration of this one man,” West said.

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