Martial arts icon and beloved actor Bruce Lee helped the Western world fall in love with martial arts, even inventing his own philosophical and fighting method called Jeet Kune Do.
In his tragically short life journey, Bruce touched many people who never forgot the wisdom and joy he shared with them.
One of those people was his wife Linda Lee Caldwell.
Although Linda Lee Caldwell remarried after Bruce’s death, she’s been busy spreading his teachings and working to ensure that Bruce’s legacy continues to have a lasting positive effect on people of all ages and all walks of life.
She’s also been doing fascinating and amazing things around the world in philanthropy, philosophy, and martial arts.
With that said, here’s a look at 10 things you probably don’t know about Linda Lee Caldwell.
1) Linda Lee Caldwell met Bruce Lee in high school
Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco but spent many of his early years growing up in Hong Kong.
As a Chinese American he grew up with feet in two worlds, raised in the tradition of Eastern martial arts but also adapting to a new life in the United States.
Despite growing up in Hong Kong, Lee saw many opportunities stateside and was fine with it when his parents sent him to live in the US as a teenager.
It was here that he finished high school and set up the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle to teach his style of martial arts.
During a demonstration of his martial arts and philosophy at a local Seattle high school, he wowed a young cheerleader called Linda Emery, who went on to join his academy. They eventually started dating as she neared the end of high school.
In 1961, Lee began a degree in drama at the University of Washington in Seattle. His studies went well, but the exciting part was his budding relationship with Linda, who was also studying to become a teacher at UW.
2) Their wedding ceremony was private because of racism
Linda and Bruce fell deeply in love, marrying in the summer of 1964. They actually planned to run away and elope together because the attitude at the time was very against interracial marriage.
In fact, Linda had avoided mentioning her growing relationship with Bruce to her parents for a long time because she was worried about the controversy of a relationship between her as a White woman and Bruce as an Asian man.
But instead, they had a small ceremony with just a few special guests. As Linda has said of Bruce’s struggle to face racial prejudice:
“It was difficult for him to break into the Hollywood circuit as an established actor because of prejudice towards him being Chinese. The studio said that a leading Chinese man in a film was not acceptable, so Bruce set out to prove them wrong.”
3) They lived in Hong Kong while married, but it wasn’t Linda’s cup of tea
After getting married, the Lees had two children, Brandon Lee (born 1965) and Shannon Lee (born 1969). However, the problem was that as Linda said, Bruce just wasn’t having luck breaking through in the US, mainly due to his ethnicity.
It was mainly for this reason that they decided to move to Hong Kong, where Lee had a better chance of becoming a star.
Linda found it a bit difficult there and felt like an outsider. She also believed she was being judged a bit by the locals who wondered why Bruce had picked her – a random American woman – to be his wife.
Sadly, their marriage lasted less than a decade due to Bruce’s tragic death in 1973, but since that time Linda Lee Caldwell has been inspiring the world by spreading Bruce’s legacy.
After his death, Linda moved back to Seattle with the kids. But she found it a bit lonely in their old stomping grounds and eventually made the move to LA.
4) Linda’s life philosophy was inspired by two main people
Linda grew up in a Baptist household, and that strong Christian faith inspired her growing up, especially from her mother. Linda says that the two main influences in her life philosophically have been her mom and Bruce Lee.
Her mother taught her that your responsibility and committing to a goal is what sets you on the right path in life, and not to be knocked off course by the criticism or judgment of others.
Bruce Lee taught her to think for herself and move with the changing tides of life effortlessly and with grace.
“Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one,” he famously said, and also “to change with change is the changeless state.”
5) Linda Lee Caldwell has two degrees
Linda left UW early before finishing her degree, but she later went back to complete a Bachelor of Arts in political science.
She also later earned a teaching degree, which allowed her to become a kindergarten teacher after Bruce’s untimely death.
It’s inspiring that Linda continued to follow her dreams despite the tragedies and setbacks that occurred in her life.
Despite the huge impact that Bruce’s passing had on her, Linda was not just about talk, she also walked the walk, keeping in mind her late husband’s advice to “adapt what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”
6) Her son Brandon died tragically after being shot by a prop gun on the set of the 1994 film the Crow
Both of the Lees’ children grew up in martial arts, and eventually, Brandon got into acting as well. He was offered a spot in a comic book superhero-inspired movie by Stan Lee but turned it down because these styles of films were not very popular at the time.
Instead, he went to work on a new horror film being directed by Alex Proyas called the Crow.
On March 31, 1993, however, Brandon was shot dead on set by mistake. The crew hadn’t properly arranged a prop gun on set and it had a real projectile in the chamber which killed him.
He died at only 28 and lies next to his dad at Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery.
Although Linda supported the film to finish shooting, she launched a lawsuit against 14 different companies and crew members for not properly putting in place safety measures and trying to make dummy bullets on the fly for prop guns instead of waiting for the approved ones to arrive in the coming days.
7) Linda’s daughter runs the Bruce Lee Foundation
Linda and her daughter Shannon founded the Bruce Lee Foundation in 2002 to spread Bruce’s philosophy and craft Jeet Kune Do.
“Ever since Bruce passed away I’ve always thought it’s my obligation, and gladly so, to show people what Bruce was doing so that it can benefit other people’s lives as well,” Linda said.
And the foundation has been doing a ton of great work.
As the website notes:
“Since 2002, the Bruce Lee Foundation has created online and physical exhibits to educate people about Bruce Lee, provided financial assistance to students and families within the United States to attend college, provided martial arts instruction for underprivileged youth, and created and run our Camp Bruce Lee summer program for kids to encounter Bruce Lee’s mind, body and spirit practices.”
8) Linda strongly denied hurtful rumors about Bruce’s personal life
There were a lot of nasty rumors that went around about Bruce Lee during his life.
The tabloids claim he slept around with a lot of women and the fact he was found dead around a fellow actress who was his friend helped propel these rumors sky high.
Linda was not impressed and she wasn’t unsure about her relationship with him or his faithfulness either, handing gossip scolds a strong rejection.
“Having been married to Bruce for nine years and being the mother of our two children I am more than qualified to give a correct recital of the facts,” she said.
Linda said she has never gotten over Brandon’s death or the loss of Bruce, but she has continued to live a full life and is happily married to her husband Bruce Caldwell and living in Boise, Idaho.
“It is beyond my realm of cosmic thinking to think that it was meant to be. It just happened. I’m not beginning to make sense of it. I just think we were fortunate that he had as many years as he did. They say time cures anything. It doesn’t. You just learn to live with it and go on.”
Linda is a strong proponent of Jeet Kune Do and Lee’s life philosophy
Jeet Kune Do is the core of Bruce Lee’s thinking and is something Linda strongly believes in and teaches.
It uses the physical fighting style of Wing Chung along with his personal philosophy and was first introduced in 1965.
“I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds,” Bruce Lee said in explaining the martial art.
“Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that. There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical…Jeet Kune Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. The closer to the true way of Kung Fu, the less wastage of expression there is.”
The philosophy accompanying Jeet Kune Do was similar: don’t cling to labels and firm ideas: be adaptive and flowing like water and always learn and respond to the experiences life brings your way.
9) Linda Lee Caldwell has written two bestselling books
Hard work and a lucky reversal of fortunes saw Lee blossom into a bonafide celebrity.
The Big Boss took the world by storm in 1971 and the family soon settled back in the United States. Tragically, he would not get to enjoy his stardom for long, as Lee died on July 20, 1973.
Lee died at only 32-years-old from cerebral edema, which devastated Caldwell, but she never lost sight of his vision and the love they had together.
Indeed, from the first moment they met, Caldwell said she could tell there was something extraordinary about Bruce Lee.
“He was dynamic. From the very first moment I met him, I thought, ‘This guy is something else,’” she recalled.
Inspired by their years of love, Linda Lee Caldwell penned the book Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew in 1975. The book was highly successful and critics and readers loved it, fondly recalling the action star who had inspired and excited them on screen.
Caldwell had several marriages after Lee, including a two-year marriage to actor and writer Tom Bleeker in the late 1980s followed by marriage to stock trader Bruce Caldwell in 1991, hence her surname Caldwell.
Although she found love again, Caldwell never forgot what she and Bruce Lee had shared, following up her first book with the 1989 biography the Bruce Lee Story.
Her books were later adapted into a successful 1993 film called Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story, which was a big hit and earned $63 million worldwide on its release.
10) Linda Lee Caldwell: an amazing woman who’s making the world a better place
In our world full of doomsday prophecies and confusion it can be easy to lose sight of just how many compassionate, brilliant and inspiring individuals there are all around us.
One of them is Linda Lee Caldwell, who came back from an unimaginable tragedy to share Bruce Lee’s legacy with the world and spread his life-affirming message for finding inner strength and inner peace.
The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do combined with the outstanding work that the Bruce Lee Foundation does for underprivileged folks is incredible and Linda Lee Caldwell is the perfect example of someone who has learned that the most valuable things in life are those which you give away.
Let’s hear it for Linda Lee Caldwell!