Audiences were captivated by the release of Enter the Dragon in the summer of 1973 and mesmerized by the performance of Bruce Lee.
Unfortunately, the star of the movie—who became the first leading actor of Chinese descent in a major studio Hollywood production—would not live to see its impact on the world.
Exactly four decades ago on Saturday, Lee’s life came to a tragic end by a cerebral edema due to an allergic reaction to pain medication. He left behind an everlasting legacy through all he had accomplished in his 32 years.
Lee showed he was a gifted martial artist and actor as well as a deep-thinking philosopher. His quotes still resonate with many people, from all different walks of life, to this day.
He was a trendsetter, a strong personality and a man who challenged conventional and traditional ways in both Hollywood and martial arts.
Before Enter the Dragon, there were no lead roles for Chinese actors. Lee set out to change that and did so. He was discovered by a Hollywood agent while performing an exhibition at Ed Parker’s Long Beach Karate Championship in 1964.
That would lead to a successful stint as the character Kato on the TV series, The Green Hornet.
After that, and without a leading role, Lee returned to Hong Kong to make Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon before Hollywood and Warner Bros. called him back to star in Enter the Dragon.
The legendary film was made on a budget of under $1 million. It grossed over $25 million in its first year alone. In 2004, the movie was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and is still widely considered a landmark in martial arts movie history.
Just as he chose to forge his own path to reach the top and break through in Hollywood, Lee did the same in martial arts.
The former Wing Chun student did not believe in having one set style in martial arts; he believed in incorporating techniques from multiple styles. He said, "Use only that which works and take it from any place you can find it." His goal was not to have a style and to dispose of any wasted movement.
He formed his own martial art entitled Jeet-Kune-Do in 1967 and displayed it brilliantly in the opening fight sequence of Enter the Dragon.
In that fight scene, Lee attacked his adversary with punches and kicks, took his opponent down to the floor by using several different types of throws and won the match by forcing his opponent to tap from a straight arm lock.
Eerily similar to modern-day MMA, especially with him wearing fingerless gloves. And this was 20 years before the first UFC.
Lee is an icon in every sense of the word. He won a posthumous award in 1999, becoming one of Time magazine's most influential people of the 20th century. He was a trailblazer, a pioneer and way ahead of his time.
Perhaps his most famous quote is the one that truly defines him:
"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
Bleacher Report spoke to several fighters and other notable MMA personalities to get their take on how Bruce Lee is such a huge influence on their sport even 40 years after his death, and to pay tribute to his legacy.