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Bruce Lee

David M. Friedman, born 1 Mar 1939
Bruce Lee, 27 Nov 1941 - 20 Jul 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 × 16.4 cm (9 × 6 7/16")
Sheet: 27.3 × 20.4 cm (10 3/4 × 8 1/16")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Frank and Anne Goodyear
Restrictions & Rights
© Warner Bros, Inc.
Object number
Exhibition Label
Despite his slight stature, the martial arts expert Bruce Lee became legendary for his fluid style and skill, and especially his one-inch punch. Having established his own martial arts school in 1963, Lee encouraged his students (including Steve McQueen) to master psychological control alongside physical discipline, exemplifying a belief that philosophical understanding cultivated an internal strength and calm that worked hand in hand with physical skill. This style, called Jeet Kune Do, led to a tough but relaxed, even understated presentation that played well on television and film as a version of "grace under pressure." After making several martial arts movies in Hong Kong, Lee starred in the first Hollywood–Hong Kong coproduction, The Big Boss (1971). His films popularized martial arts, especially among African American youths, who related to a nonwhite hero who fought established powers while remaining calm and in control. Tupac Shakur and other hip-hop artists have been fans of Lee, and "kung fu" references remain prevalent in rap and throughout popular culture.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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National Portrait Gallery Collection