Fifty years after Bruce Lee’s dying, this San Francisco man retains him alive

SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Chinn says Bruce Lee saved his life.

Now, 50 years after Lee’s dying, Chinn works to maintain Lee alive within the minds of tourists at a San Francisco museum.

“Many instances I get burned out and I get drained, however I hold reminding myself that Bruce Lee helped me so I’ve to maintain up my a part of the discount,” Chinn stated this week. “It’s simply form of unusual as a result of half my tour group doesn’t know he was born right here.”

Lee died on July 20, 1973, after an allergic response to headache medicine. He was 32 and never but the martial arts film celebrity he would turn into.

Chinn, 62, is a retired mail provider who serves as a docent within the Museum of the Chinese language Historic Society of America in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the place he guides vacationers by an exhibit devoted to Lee’s life.

“His tour is basically fairly private, fairly in depth, and really intentional,” stated the museum’s collections supervisor, Palma You.

About 60% of the displayed artifacts, together with the blue go well with Lee wore within the opening scene of “Enter the Dragon,” the 1973 film that grossed the modern-day equal of $2 billion worldwide and cemented Lee’s place as a martial arts icon, have been loaned to the museum by Chinn himself. The remainder of the gathering got here from Lee’s daughter, Shannon, and one other non-public collector.

Jeff Chinn adjusts a duplicate copy of the blue go well with worn by Bruce Lee within the “Enter the Dragon” film, a part of an exhibit on the martial arts icon on show on the Chinese language Historic Society of America Museum in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Space Information Group) 

Chinn was born in the identical Chinatown hospital on Jackson Avenue that Lee was born in in 1940. They didn’t know one another, however as a Chinese language-American rising up in San Francisco, Chinn looked for function fashions that may assist him shed the notion that Asian males have been weak.

With few star figures in Hollywood to look as much as, Chinn discovered himself struggling to interrupt the stereotype. He remembers feeling discarded at school, significantly in health club class, the place he felt Asian children have been usually picked final for sports activities groups.

That’s till the Monday after the weekend of the premiere of Lee’s film, “Fist of Fury” in 1972.

Chinn noticed the film on a Saturday, returned to high school the subsequent Monday and located the white children noticed him in another way. The 2 captains of the kickball workforce had usually picked Asian children final, however after they noticed Lee kick a person by a wall on the large display, they approached Chinn and whispered in his ear.

RELATED: On the fiftieth anniversary of his dying, a life-size Bruce Lee statue is unveiled in L.A.

“Then they requested me, ‘Are you able to Chinese language truly try this?’” Chinn stated. “I nodded my head sure. That meant a lot to me, being comparatively invisible on Friday to being comparatively in style on Monday, like in a single day.”

However the subsequent 12 months, Chinn’s household moved and he ended up at a faculty the place he was the one Chinese language-American.

The bullies wasted no time making him their main goal. After college someday when Chinn couldn’t cease himself from crying alone in his bed room, he regarded up at his Bruce Lee poster and felt a switch of energy.

“It was virtually like Bruce Lee was talking to me, saying, ‘It’s OK Jeff, as a result of I’m Chinese language and I need you to be pleased with your heritage,’” Chinn stated. “And I advised Bruce Lee, through the poster, I stated that is the darkest interval of my younger life and I’ll really want your assist. If you happen to assist me, I’ll pay you again someday.

“That’s why I lend my stuff to museums, to share his legacy, to maintain his reminiscence alive.”

In 1993, after Lee’s son, Brandon, was killed on a film set in an accident involving a prop gun, the household held an public sale to promote Brandon’s half of Lee’s belongings.

4 fits Lee had worn in motion pictures have been to be auctioned. Chinn remembers three of them going to Planet Hollywood. He gained the fourth, the blue go well with from “Enter the Dragon” for $7,000.

It’s unclear how a lot the go well with is value in the present day, however one other of Lee’s fits, the yellow jumpsuit he wore in his remaining film, “Recreation of Dying,” bought at public sale for $100,000 in 2013.

Chinn has recurrently loaned the blue go well with to numerous museums through the years. He stated Warner Brothers borrowed the go well with in 1997 and insured it for $130,000. He additionally has loaned it to the Smithsonian, the Academy Museum of Movement Photos and one other museum in Hong Kong.

“I wore it twice and it match me fairly good,” he stated.

Now it’s a part of the Bruce Lee exhibit that started final 12 months at CHSA. The plan is to maintain the exhibit going for 5 years, refreshing the show yearly.

“It’s been doing nicely,” stated You, the gathering supervisor. “Individuals are very and the demographic coming in has modified considerably. It’s extra numerous now.”

Lee as soon as had a martial arts college in Oakland. At this time it’s a automobile dealership that has a handful of Lee posters on show within the showroom.

It was on the Solar Sing Theatre in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1964 that the trajectory of Lee’s life modified. He had issued an open problem to battle anybody and Wong Jackman, a well-regarded fighter in Chinatown, accepted the problem.

It’s right here that the story will get murky.

In line with the ebook, “The Life and Tragic Dying of Bruce Lee,” written by his spouse, Lee is claimed to have crushed Jackman in three minutes. However Michael Dorgan, an creator who as soon as skilled beneath Jackman, stated Jackman had a distinct account, claiming the battle took 20-25 minutes earlier than it resulted in a draw.

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