Bruce Lee was born November 27, 1940; two years later Jimi Hendrix was born on the same day. Two legends separated by two years; men from distinctly different backgrounds; men who died too early but significantly impacted the American culture in the short years they lived and entertained. Bruce Lee is considered one of the most influential martial artists of the 20th century while Jimi Hendrix is considered one of the most influential musicians of his era and the greatest electric guitarist in rock history.
The Birth of Legends Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix
Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, California; his father, a Cantonese opera and film opera had brought the family along while touring the United States; Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington. Both men were one of five children; Lee was the fourth child, Jimi Hendrix the first child of his family.
When Lee was three months old, the family returned to Hong Kong where Lee stayed until he was 18 years old. He returned to the United States and settled in Seattle where he went to college. When Hendrix was two, his mother placed him in temporary care of friends in the San Francisco Bay area.
Both boys had troubled childhoods. Lee was frequently caught up in altercations at school, while Hendrix was a shy boy who was deeply affected by the domestic chaos of his family. His parents divorced when he was nine years old due to his mother's alcoholism. At times he was left in the care of his paternal grandparents who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Hendrix taught himself how to play the guitar. His mother died when he was about 15 years old and about the same time, he bought his first acoustic guitar for $5. His father bought him his first electric guitar about 17 years old, a white Supro Ozark. In the meantime, Lee was in Hong Kong where he studied Wing Chun, a form of martial arts, under the teacher Yip Man. The majority of the students did not want to spar with Lee because his mother was of half-German descent and the Chinese did not believe non-Asians should be taught martial arts techniques. Lee ended up continuing his training with Yip Man in private.
As a teenager, Hendrix was caught twice riding in stolen cars; Lee was arrested for street fights. To avoid jail, Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army but was discharged a year later. Lee's father sent him to the United States to avoid a contract that may have been put out on Lee's life by one of his opponents in a street fight who was connected to organized crime.
Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee Develop Their Own Styles
As the two men aged, they both developed their own style of their particular art. Lee started teaching martial arts in the United States in 1959; a style he called Jun Fan Gung Fu which means Bruce Lee's Kung Fu. Eight years later after having moved to Oakland, getting "discovered" by a Hollywood producing, and moving to Los Angeles, Lee developed a martial arts style and philosophy he called Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist. Lee developed this because he believed Jun Fan Gung Fu was too restrictive. He started to use different training methods, adding weight training, running and stretching. He emphasized "the style of no style." He wanted his style to exist outside of any limitations and parameters of traditional martial arts. Notable students of Bruce Lee martial arts were Chuck Norris and Steve McQueen.
Both Lee and Hendrix achieved fame outside of the country before becoming a household name in the U.S. Lee made most of his martial arts movies in Hong Kong where he became an instant hit; while Hendrix recorded in London and toured Europe before arriving as a singing sensation in the U.S. Hendrix is well known for his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock. One of his most popular hits was "Purple Haze." This song revealed his sense of humor when a mondegreen appeared in which the line "'Scuse me whle I kiss the sky" was misheard as "'Scuse me while I kiss the guy." In a few performances, the Jimi Hendrix "Purple Haze" rendition included him singing "kiss the guy" while pointing to fellow band mates. At Woodstock, he deliberately pointed at the sky to make the line clear.
Legends Die Young
Both men died young, Lee at age 32 and Hendrix at age 27; both from drug related incidents that were surrounding by controversy. Hendrix died in London of an overdose and there were theories that it was a suicide as well as theories of a murder conspiracy. Lee died in Hong Kong, apparently from an adverse reaction to a painkiller. His death brought theories of murder conspiracies and family curses.
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