Brandon Lee (Brandon Bruce Lee)

Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee

Actor Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of the late kung fu star Bruce Lee, was killed Wednesday after a small explosive charge used to simulate gunfire went off inside a grocery bag during filming on a movie set in Wilmington, N.C.

Brandon Lee, who many believed was on the threshold of stardom similar to that attained by his father two decades earlier, had been working on the $14-million movie “The Crow,” produced by Edward Pressman and Jeff Most. Lee played a rock star brought back from the grave who adopts the persona of a night bird to avenge his own and his girlfriend’s untimely deaths.

For the scene, directed by Alex Proyas, Lee was walking through a doorway carrying the grocery bag as another actor fired blanks at him from 15 feet away, police said.

At that moment, according to a spokesman for the producers, Lee activated a toggle switch underneath the grocery bag and set off the small charge, called a squib, a device commonly used on movie sets to simulate the effects of gunfire.

The immediate impact of the shot was an internal abdominal bleed that reduced Lee’s heartbeat to a whimper. He lay there, going gray, on the apartment floor, while first aid was frantically administered. Rushed to the nearest hospital as soon as an ambulance could arrive, he underwent 12 hours of intermittent surgery and was pronounced dead at 1.03pm the next day.

The accident that had just occurred may be the unluckiest in the history of Hollywood production, for a bleak variety of logistical reasons that only came to light afterwards. It was also among the eeriest and most tragic in a whole set of other ways.

The Crow was meant to be Lee’s big break. He’d already built up a cult following among martial-arts fans, not just because of the legacy of his father, but for a modest if mountingly popular series of his own action flicks – the most recent of which, Rapid Fire (1992), had made a solid profit on a $10m budget.

The Crow would be a different test of his physical capabilities and a much steeper one for his acting gifts. “I don’t want to be remembered as ‘the son of Bruce Lee’,” he had once declared; Eric Draven was the role that stood the greatest chance of making that ambition a reality.

From James O’Barr’s 1989 comic book, inspired by the author’s despair when his own fiancée was killed by a drunk driver, this $15m independent production wanted to extract an intensely sorrowful atmosphere of Gothic melancholy. It was riding the wave of dark comic-book pictures started by Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), but going darker, grittier, and even more stylised on under half the budget, while trusting to the vision of an unproven director best-known for his commercials and music videos.

O’Barr’s influences were as much musical – the morbid soul-baring of Joy Division and The Cure – as literary, but there were hints of Edgar Allan Poe, H P Lovecraft and Bram Stoker in the main character’s anguished, vengeful scramble out of his own grave.

According to an in-depth account of the making of The Crow by the author Bridget Baiss, the shoot had been riven with complications, delays, and rumblings of discontent from cast and crew until this point – perhaps the inevitable upshot of committing to a freezing, nine-week night shoot that had already run more than a week behind schedule, leaving 8 or 9 days left to film on the day Lee was shot.

Just as production had begun, a carpenter suffered severe burns when his crane hit live power lines. The so-called “Storm of the Century” swept through the Southeastern US on March 13 and caused a panicked hiatus. Icicles formed, dangling from the rain machines on set, which were needed to sustain the film’s constant downpour. Everyone got ill.

The one thing keeping morale up was Lee himself, who uncomplainingly submitted to night after night of this intense workout, tramping barefoot and soaked to the skin through Wilmington’s alleyways, and clearly acting his socks off. Everyone on set was deeply impressed by his commitment to this role, and his evident drive to show audiences he was much, much more than a pair of biceps. Many came to love him, and mourned him desperately in the aftermath.

The notion of The Crow being in some way a cursed production inevitably dies hard. Much of this comes from the lore surrounding Bruce Lee’s death from a brain haemorrhage 20 years earlier, caused by a freak reaction to an analgesic. In his biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), released mere weeks after Brandon’s death, there’s even a creepy climactic scene in which young Brandon is stalked by the demon that’s just attacked his father.



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  • February, 01, 1965
  • Oakland, California


  • March, 31, 1993
  • Oakland, California

Cause of Death

  • Gunshot Wound


  • Lake View Cemetery
  • Seattle, Washington

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