Visiting the Lees in Lakeview
Two of Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetery most famous residents are Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon. Every year, thousands of people from all over the world visit them. Visitors are so common that when I recently went into the cemetery office to ask about another matter, the receptionist did not even look up from what she was doing. She pointed to a little box beside the entryway, and in a tone that suggested she repeated the same thing several times a day, said, “There are maps to the Lee graves in the box beside you.”
After Chairman Mao, Bruce Lee is probably the most recognized Asian in the world. He was also one of the greatest martial artists in history, creating the discipline of Jeet Kune Do, or The Way of the Intercepting Fist. He was also a star of film and television. As a child actor, Lee starred in several movies made in Asia. In the 1960s, he was the crime fighter Kato on television’s Green Hornet. Bruce Lee choreographed fight scenes for many Hollywood movies, and taught Kung Fu to actors like Steve McQueen and James Coburn. He broke the racial barrier, and became internationally famous as a leading man.
Like many famous people, Bruce Lee had his enemies and critics. When he died in 1973 at the age of 32, there were rumors that he was killed for revealing Asian fighting secrets to Westerners. An autopsy surgeon told a skeptical public that Lee probably died of an allergic reaction to a prescription aspirin.
Brandon Lee died in 1993 at the age of 28, while filming the movie, The Crow. He was killed by an improperly loaded stunt gun. In the case of both father and son, their final movies were released posthumously to rave reviews.
Many believe the Lees were like stars that shined too brightly and burned out before their time. They are buried side by side: local fans and some of Bruce Lee’s former students take care of the gravesites. It is not difficult to find their graves, even without a map. There is usually a car or two parked nearby, and a small crowd gathered around the father and son. The Lee family had a bench erected at the foot of their graves, on which fans may sit. Many people leave symbolic offerings on the graves, like flowers, coins, letters, toy weapons and food.
When I visited the Lees, I met a couple from Washington D.C., who had brought a friend from Poland. He talked about how he idolized Bruce Lee, and how seeing his movies as a child (not an easy feat in a country that was Communist at the time and considered Lee’s movies to be western decadence) influenced his study of the martial arts. He eventually earned a fourth degree black belt in his discipline, and considered his visit the smallest respect he could pay to Bruce Lee.
Some people believe that the spirits of the departed sometimes come to their gravesite when friends and family gather there. Many people believe they have somehow touched the spirits of Bruce and Brandon at their graves, and at least one person may have evidence of that in a photograph.