What You Didn't Know About Bruce Lee's Acting Career

Bruce Lee is now a legend of martial arts cinema, and is credited with inspiring other iconic cinematic high-kickers, even though he only starred in four Hollywood movies before his tragic death at just 32 years old. Short-lived as it was, his acting career packed a punch.

Lee actually starred in over 20 films in Hong Kong before he even turned 18, according to Cheat Sheet. Although he was born in San Francisco, California, his family moved back to Hong Kong soon after his birth, and that's where he got his early start as an actor. His first role was as an infant in the 1941 Chinese film called Golden Gate Girl.

After returning to the States, he nabbed the role of Kato on the TV series The Green Hornet in 1966, in which he upstaged the star of the show, Van Williams. (Who? – Exactly.) He was also in line to get the starring role on the hit series Kung Fu, but the execs had qualms about the American public's ability to understand his accent. There's an urban legend that Lee was the creator of the show, and the executives swiped it out from under him.According to Martial Journal, however, he had only been considered for the role that was ultimately given to David Carradine (who was actually a terrible fighter).

Bruce Lee had to return to Hong Kong in order to make it in Hollywood

Lee was frustrated with the side parts he was getting in Hollywood, so on the advice of producer Fred Weintraub (who did want Lee in the lead role of Kung Fu), Bruce went back to Hong Kong to make a feature film that would put his spectacular skills on display and prove to the Tinseltown bigwigs that he meant business (and could bring in business). The Big Boss was a huge hit when it was released in 1971. As The Hollywood Reporter, notes, "Lee's charisma and fighting style made the film a phenomenon."

And it did exactly what Weintraub had expected. After the global success of his second film in that contract, 1972's Fist of Fury, Hollywood was begging Lee to come back. That year, Warner Bros. gave Lee the starring role in what would be the first Chinese film produced by a big-time Hollywood studio. Although we all know him as the supreme butt-kicker in that now legendary film — 1973's Enter the Dragon – he would not live to see it released. Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973, of a brain edema while in the middle of filming the posthumously completed and released Game of Death.