04/01/2013 11:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

20 Years After His Death on the Set of The Crow, I Remember Brandon Lee

On March 31, 1993 a young man's trajectory to stardom was cut tragically short.

Lengendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee's charismatic son, Brandon, was carving a name of his own in film when a dummy bullet shot from a prop gun penetrated his abdomen and lodged in his spine while he was shooting a scene from the gothic-comic film The Crow.

This seemingly indestructible young man was pronounced dead at the age of 28. Twenty years later, it feels like I first laid eyes on him yesterday.


Hollywood June 1989

I'm an aspiring actress and, as night must follow day, also a waitress, hanging out at the Cat and Fiddle pub in Hollywood with the cast of a play called Fullfed Beast. I watch one of the actors shoot pool. My friend Robin, the makeup artist for the play, told me earlier that he's Bruce Lee's son, which I thought was kind of cool. But it wasn't until he walked onstage, chock-full of charisma, that my heart throbbed like a teeny-bopper at a David Cassidy concert circa 1975.

He played Flea, a hard-edged criminal, and I sat in the front row of the audience so close to him I could've plucked the cigarette he inexpertly sucked right out of his mouth.

But whenever I approach Brandon at the pub he leads me over to his best friend Bill, then dashes off. I'm not interested in Bill, who looks a lot like me -- blonde, blue-eyed, familiar. It's Brandon I find dreamy. To me he's exotic, fine-boned, hazel-eyed, with dark brows and hair. He moves like a sinuous cat.

As the night winds down I sit at a table despondently finishing my beer when I feel two hands placed on either side of my shoulders. I lean my head back and look up to find Brandon's face looking down into mine.

"Are you flirting with me?" I demand.

"Am I flirting with you?" He seems to consider the idea for the first time, teasing me a bit. "I guess I am."

"Good," I say with a confidence I don't particularly feel.

Two minutes later I'm on the back of Brandon's fast-flying motorcycle grabbing on to this leather-jacketed wild-child for dear life.

The first thing I notice when his motorcycle rolls up the long, cracked-cememt driveway to his bungalow house is the 1959 Cadillac hearse.

"You own a hearse?"

Brandon shoots me a mega-watt, chipped-tooth smile, "It's great for camping."

"You're not doing the whole James Dean thing, are you? The leather jacket, the boots, the motorcycle, the hearse?"

"Baby, I'm a lot more original than James Dean." Opening his front door with a flourish he says, "Welcome to my humble abode."

Entering his chicly ramshackle, tiny craftsman Silver Lake home is like entering a seductive, Oriental universe. Asian scarves are casually draped over thrift-store lampshades. Japanese folding screens dissect rooms. Chopsticks rest in a bamboo kitchen drying rack. Brandon sashays about the room lighting a studiously haphazard array of candles. I've never seen a boy move with such grace and flare.

Books by Sarte, Camus, Ayn Ran and Stanislavsky litter makeshift bookshelves. VHS tapes of Last Tango In Paris, A Clockwork Orange and Harold & Maude sit on top of his VCR.

The walls are whitewashed, the beaten-up hardwood floors covered with threadbare Persian rugs. He's got the whole eclectic, mysterious, artsy actor-thing down to a T, I think. It's working. Weak knees? Check. Sweaty palms? Check. Butterflies in stomach? Check, and we're ready for lift off.

"This house is major chick bait," I say, feigning indifference.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet. Would you like to accompany me to the den?"

"The den? Or your woman lair?"

"Decide for yourself."

We step into an enclosed patio graced with a vast, inviting beanbag chair. Really more of a bean bag bed. I can't help but laugh.

"After you, milady," he offers like a 17th Century highborn baron-robber straight off the set of the Three Musketeers. I sit and am instantly vacuum-sucked into the center of the beanbag, ostensibly trapped. I try to reposition myself, grunting and straining which only manages to further entrench me in a sea of cascading beans.

"Maybe this'll help," says Brandon and he plops right down next to me, catapulting me straight into his arms. We both laugh. For all his hip, I'm-a-cool-eclectic-dude duds and home furnishings he has a surprisingly goofy laugh. It's endearing and uncontrived.

"May I?" he asks, leaning in.


He kisses me. It's a sweet kiss. It asks permission and makes no assumptions. I return his kiss, which turns out to be more than a kiss. It's an invitation into his life. For one brief year Brandon Lee will be my beau.


In the 20 years since Brandon died I've given up acting, taken up writing, failed ignominiously, succeeded occasionally, had my heart broken twice, gotten married to my best friend and had two daughters who hold my heart in the palms of their hands.

But I still remember the promising, electric young man who broke down listening to John Lennon sing Beautiful Boy for his son Sean because he missed his own father so much.

If you can't be here with us, Brandon, I hope at last you've found him.

The unabridged version of this story can be found in Bradley-Colleary's Smash, Crash and Burn: Tales From the Edge of Celebrity.