Can the untimely death of Bruce Lee’s son be blamed on a family curse?
Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee were a father and son linked by the action-packed world of martial arts films and, some say, by an ancient Chinese curse that killed them both. Bruce Lee’s film career began in Hong Kong. With his explosive power and fluid grace, he almost single-handedly created an audience for martial arts films. In the summer of 1973, Lee was 32-years-old and on the brink of international stardom. Then on July 20th, he took a prescription drug for a headache and laid down for a nap. Bruce Lee never got up. His funeral drew more than 25,000 mourners. Some said that Lee died from a family curse. But after an unprecedented nine-day inquest, the coroner announced his findings—Bruce Lee had died from a freak allergic reaction to a pain remedy. Author John Little has written extensively about the life of Bruce Lee:
Brandon followed Bruce’s path to the big screen as a star of martial arts films. He was 28-years-old when he was fatally shot on the set of his fifth feature, “The Crow”. Was he also a victim of the Lee family curse? Just like Bruce Lee’s death, the shooting of Brandon Lee renewed speculation about the Lee curse. But can this tragedy really be attributed to supernatural forces? After nearly 50 eyewitnesses and more than a dozen ballistics tests, detectives Rodney Simmons and Brian Pettus of the Wilmington, North Carolina Police Department, pieced together the strange six-week journey of the bullet destined to kill Brandon Lee. According to Detective Simmons, the bullets were purchased at a pawnshop:
A stagehand gathered hundreds of props, among them was a box of live .44 magnum bullets. According to Detective Pettus, the first link in the fatal chain of events was now in place:
The stunt coordinator locked the bullets in the trunk of his car, where they would remain for another two weeks. It was one of these bullets that would eventually kill Brandon Lee. Understanding the tragic events to come required some knowledge of bullets and blanks. A live bullet has a lead tip, a load of gunpowder, and an explosive charge known as a primer. Once the trigger is pulled the hammer hits the primer. The primer then detonates, igniting the powder. The explosive force of burning powder shoots the lead tip towards the target. Blanks are bullets with a harmless disc of cardboard instead of a lead tip and have a smaller gunpowder load. They may have one-quarter or one half the normal charge. When fired, blanks create a visible but harmless flash. A dummy round looks like a bullet but cannot be fired. It has the cartridge and the lead tip only. No gunpowder, no primer. On the set of “The Crow,” the crew needed blanks. To save time, the fateful decision was made to modify the live rounds that they had. According to Detective Pettus, the crew removed the lead tip and powder, leaving only the cartridge and primer:
That one dummy round had an explosive primer and a lead tip. The crew used the dummy rounds for close-ups of someone firing a .44 magnum. The detectives said that at least two people heard a popping noise. No one realized it was the sound of a primer firing—exploding with just enough force to dislodge the lead tip from the bullet casing and wedge it into the gun barrel. There it would remain, undetected for another 14 days, awaiting its fateful meeting with Brandon Lee.
North Carolina officials concluded that the film company’s biggest failures were not having a gun expert on the set and taking shortcuts to save time and money. However, the chain of negligence involved so many people that convicting any one of them was unlikely. No criminal charges were filed. In the end, it seemed that Brandon Lee was truly a victim of circumstance. Or was he, as some claim, the final casualty of the family curse?