The Real Reason Bruce Lee Had Two Funerals

As Enter the Dragon taught us, boards don't hit back. And since Bruce Lee never bored audiences, he made a lot of hits back in his heyday. Lee's fists were fast and furious when Vin Diesel was wheel-high to a muscle car. Before the dime store Bruce Lee, Liu Kang, engaged in Mortal Kombat, the priceless original was immortalized in Game of Death. His epic yellow suit with matching nunchucks will probably be etched across the hearts of martial arts movie fans forever. Yet in a tragic twist, Game of Death marked the last role that Lee played in life.

On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died at the unbelievably young age of 32. Already a mega star in China, Lee left a black hole where the stardom used to be. But in the U.S., instead of leaving a void he filled a new, posthumous role. As History details, the month after Lee's untimely passing, Enter the Dragon hit U.S. theaters, and enthralled moviegoers simply couldn't hit back. With that, he became the golden boy of America's silver screen. Fittingly, a death that affected two parts of the world so differently was also mourned in two drastically different ways.

Inter the dragon

As the Seattle Times describes, in Bruce Lee: A Life, biographer Matthew Polly paints a picture of two funerals on two continents that seemed worlds apart. Born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong, Lee may have been the most beloved man in all of Asia. In Hong Kong alone, more than 15,000 people showed up to pay their respects. According to Polly, "Old men wept, young girls fainted, and many people were hospitalized for shock and minor injuries."

In the United States, Lee was best known as the Green Hornet's sidekick, Kato. Multitudes of mourners did not gather to weep in his honor. Instead "a small service" ensued, and actors Steve McQueen and James Coburn acted as pallbearers. To the enormous dismay of Chinese citizens, Lee's widow, Linda, insisted on burying her husband at Seattle's Lake View Cemetery because "Bruce believed the individual represents the whole of mankind whether he lives in the Orient or elsewhere. He believes (sic) man struggles to find the life outside himself, not realizing the life he seeks is within him."

In a strange bit of symbolism, Lee had come to Seattle after being kicked out of school in Hong Kong. Once a "privileged" kid who picked fights and lacked discipline, he would wash dishes and teach people how to be disciplined butt-kickers. Lee would grapple with depression when he was rejected for roles, never realizing that by the time of his death, he had already earned his place in the constellation of American megastars.