Growing up in the shadow of a superstar is probably not the easiest start in life. Growing up without him, with nothing but his legacy left behind, makes it tougher.
Shannon Lee is the daughter of the late martial arts legend, Bruce Lee.
You might not know who she is, but it’s worth getting to know the woman who dedicates her life to preserving her father’s teaching.
Here are 8 fascinating facts about Bruce Lee’s remarkable daughter.
1. Early life.
Shannon is Bruce Lee’s second child with wife Linda Lee Cadwell (née Emery.) She had an older brother, Brandon.
Bruce and Linda met while he was giving a Kung Fu demonstration in a high school Linda attended. She then became his student and the two fell in love, marrying after college.
She lived in Hong Kong from 1971 to 1973 with her parents until her father’s death.
Shannon’s Cantonese name is Lee Heung Yee while her Mandarin name is Lee Siang Yee.
Growing up, Shannon recalls his father as a very loving parent.
“When he focused his attention on you, it was like having the sun shine on you. That feeling has stayed with me my whole life.”
But according to her, Bruce was also strict:
“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.”
2. Extensive martial arts training.
As a child, Shannon trained in Jeet Kune Do, the martial art created by her father. She took her studies seriously in the late 1990s, training with Ted Wong for parts in action movies.
Shannon’s martial arts studies didn’t stop there. She also studied Taekwando under Dung Doa Liang, Wushu under Eric Chen, and kickboxing under Yuen De.
For a while, it seemed Shannon and Brandon would follow in their father’s footsteps. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee passed away at the age of 32 from an allergic reaction from analgesic.
Heartbroken and grieving, both Shannon and Brandon stopped training in martial arts.
In an interview with Bleach Report, Shannon says:
“After my father died, my brother and I both sort of tended to shy away from the martial arts. I don’t know why. It just felt like a lot to continue after he was gone.
“We moved from Hong Kong and finally settled back in California. I think we just wanted to feel like normal kids and not worry too much about that.”
However, they naturally gravitated back to martial arts, as Shannon says:
“I really didn’t approach the martial arts till I was in my early twenties. I think probably for my brother and I know for myself that it just felt like something you needed to do.
“It was part of your heritage and another way to get to know my father, which was to study his art, and to understand the thing that he was so passionate about as best as I could.”
3. Life after Bruce Lee’s death.
Shannon was only 4 years old when Bruce Lee died unexpectedly. As a result, she didn’t have many memories of him.
However, she says:
“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.”
After the death of her father, who was also the sole breadwinner of the family, things changed drastically for Shannon and her family,
“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.”
Her mother, Linda, was forced to sell Bruce Lee’s film equity stakes just to support her children.
The family moved back to Seattle but eventually moved to Los Angeles shortly after.
4. Her brother’s death.
Tragedy struck Shannon’s life one more time.
Her brother, Brandon, died at 28 from a faulty prop gun while filming The Crow. He was hit in the abdomen by a live round primer that was unknowingly loaded in the gun.
Brandon was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery for 6 hours. Tragically, he passed away.
Shannon was devastated by her brother’s death. But it was her late father’s words who helped her in such a difficult time.
“I was really struggling and I came across one quote my father wrote that said, ‘The medicine for my suffering I had within me from the very beginning. Now I see that I will never find the light unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel.’
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“That led me on a path of healing and has sustained me my whole life.”
5. She’s a strong, independent woman.
Shannon grew up with two very strong and masculine influences all her life.
Her father, Bruce, was a man who grew up in Eastern teachings and way of life. His brother, Brandon, was always headstrong, athletic, and good at everything he put his mind into.
But that didn’t intimidate Shannon into being as ambitious as the males in her family.
To her, being a girl didn’t matter.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the way I was raised or if it’s because my genetics. It may be due to my own inherent personality but I’ve never really thought of myself as just a girl.
“Obviously I’m a girl, and I appreciate that I’m a girl in many ways but I never saw that as limiting in any way for myself.
“I do what I want to do and if other people limit me in that way then that’s there problem so to speak. What’s important to me are my own expectations.”
6. She tried a career in acting.
Shannon decided to follow her father and brother’s footsteps and tried her hand at acting.
Interestingly, people dissuaded her, saying that acting was not good for the family. But Shannon was determined. She went back to learning martial arts under the tutelage of her father’s students.
She went into film and television with titles like Enter the Eagles and Martial Law. Shannon also played the leading role in the action film Lessons for an Assassin and tried her hand at hosting, during the first season of the game show WMAC Masters.
7. She doesn’t like to announce who her father is.
While most people would probably like to tell the world they have a famous father, Shannon doesn’t want to actively announce it, choosing to protect her privacy.
As a child, she was discouraged by her mother to brag about her father. Linda believed it would attract unwanted attention.
It was complicated growing up because of it, but she learned how to balance everythign,
According to Shannon:
“I’ve had people hang around me because I’m Bruce Lee’s daughter, and it’s kind of a blow. You start to ask yourself, “Who am I?”, “What’s valuable about me?”, “Is what’s valuable about me that I’m Bruce Lee’s daughter?”
“When I was a kid, my mom told me not to go around telling people, because you want them to like you for who you are. But it made me feel like I had a secret.
“These days, I don’t lead with the fact I’m Bruce Lee’s daughter, but I don’t hide it either.”
7. She heads the Bruce Lee estate and foundation.
Shannon has always been open about her dedication in preserving her father’s legacy. She is the president of the Bruce Lee Foundation and Bruce Lee Enterprises.
“I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to running the Bruce Lee businesses and continuing his legacy. Some people say I’m doing that to make money or to emulate him. That couldn’t be further from the truth; I do it because I’m inspired by his message.”
But heading the family estate was no easy feat for Shannon. It is widely known that the Lee family have their differences.
Bruce Lee’s widow and daughter were always at odds with Bruce’s family. Distance and a difference in culture were likely the major reasons.
Shannon clarifies there are no rifts, though:
“We are not on bad terms. We just don’t communicate very often.”
In handling legal matters, instead of loving phone calls, both sides of the family talked through lawyers and mediators.
However, that all changed when Shannon spearheaded the founding the Bruce Lee Action Museum in Seattle.
Bruce’s sister, Phoebe, says:
“Let bygones be bygones. It feels so much better if you let it go … We share the same family name after all.”
8. She lives by her father’s philosophy.
Bruce Lee might simply be the lean, physically intimidating martial arts figure to most people. But to many people, he was a philosopher – someone who thought and felt deeply.
To Shannon, her father wasn’t just an action movie star, he was someone wise. And even though he passed away before he could guide her himself, Shannon found a way to connect with Bruce anyway.
“When I have struggled with things like being Bruce Lee’s daughter, it’s his words that have guided me. His words that said that I just need to have faith in myself, believe in myself and express myself.
“I just need to be on the path to my own self-cultivation, my own self-actualisation. I’m not in this world to be him or to fill his shoes,my work is to fill my own shoes.”
As to what the core of Bruce Lee’s philosophy was, Shannon believes that it’s about putting your thoughts and values into action.
“You can come up with all these great phrases, and great quotes and aphorisms. But if you’re not applying them to yourself, if you’re not living those things, if you’re not putting them into action, then they’re not really helping you.”
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