The Stunning Transformation Of Bruce Lee's Daughter, Shannon

It's been nearly 50 years since Bruce Lee's passing, but he remains unforgettable. He made an impact in more ways than one. Throughout his illustrious career, he challenged prevailing Asian stereotypes and traditional ideas of masculinity. He revolutionized the worlds of fitness and martial arts, both in practice and on the silver screen. The list goes on, and his daughter, Shannon Lee, has made it her life's mission to keep her late father's legacy alive. Aside from being the daughter of a cinematic icon, Lee has paved her own way in the industry. She is an actress, executive producer, writer, and businesswoman.

One would imagine that being the child of such a legend would mean having really big shoes to fill. "It's always an interesting journey," Lee shared in an interview with Nicki Sun. "The truth of the matter is, my father's legacy is one of love, really, and I try to operate under the sort of guidelines of love and what I really think that means when I try to put it out there in the world." Lee has carried herself well throughout the years and made a name for herself in the process.

Shannon Lee was born in Santa Monica, California

Three years after the legalization of interracial marriage, Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell married in 1964. They welcomed their second child, Shannon Lee on April 19, 1969. She was born at Santa Monica General Hospital. Her late brother, Brandon Lee, was four years her senior.

Growing up, Lee and her brother were very much exposed to their father's work. "My mother always allowed my brother Brandon and me to watch all of our father's films, even when we were too young to really know what was taking place. We had his movie posters hanging everywhere in our home. When he was filming, we'd go to set. We would watch the films in theaters. We'd watch on VHS," Lee said in an interview with ESPN. Martial arts was a big part of their childhood, too. "My father used to fool around with us, having us throw punches and kicks. I was much younger, so I didn't do it to the extent of Brandon," she said in an interview, as the South China Morning Post reported.

Lee lived back and forth between Los Angeles and Hong Kong until she was 4 years old. In 1974, she relocated to California after her father's passing.

Shannon Lee's father, Bruce Lee, died when she was 4

Shannon Lee's father, Bruce Lee, died at the age of 32. The martial arts icon was in Hong Kong for the production of the martial arts film "Game of Death." In the hours leading up to his death, he complained of a headache and then took a nap from which he never woke up. This came months before the release of "Enter the Dragon," his critically acclaimed martial arts film.

He was found unconscious at the home of Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei, who upon finding him had him rushed to the hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and was later diagnosed with a cerebral edema. Many conspiracy theories arose following Lee's death: attributing the death to marijuana use, a bad reaction to painkillers, and even murder. This may be due to a move by Lee's business partner, Raymond Chow, who in an attempt to avoid scandal declared that Lee died in the home of his wife Linda Lee Cadwell instead of the home of Ting, with whom Lee was also rumored to have had an affair.

His funeral was held in Hong Kong, and his body was buried in Seattle. Though their time together was limited, Shannon Lee still has fond memories of her late father. "When he focused his attention on you, it was like having the sun shine on you. That feeling has stayed with me my whole life," she told People.

She studied vocal performance at Tulane University

"I loved my time in Tulane. I kind of ended up there by happenstance," Shannon Lee shared in an interview with Tulane University. Lee moved to New Orleans in 1987, miles away from her hometown in California, to pursue a degree in music at Tulane University. "I knew that I loved to sing. ... I could play the piano, I could read music but I had no training in music," she recalled. Her musical talent proves that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as her grandfather, Lee Hoi-Chuen (Bruce Lee's father), was a film actor and famous Cantonese opera singer.

Coming to Tulane, she was unsure of what major she wanted to pursue. But at the advice of her mother and brother, she took additional classes in her other interests, such as acting and creative writing. By the end of this, she realized that she really loved music. "I just kept falling in love with music over and over again ... and I decided for it to be my major. Honestly, I had no plan. I didn't know what I wanted to do with that," she explained.

During her stay at Tulane, she starred in numerous operas and recitals. She starred as Belinda in the opera "Dido and Aeneas." In 2000, her vocals on a cover of "I'm in the Mood for Love" made it into "China Strike Force," a Hong Kong film directed by Stanley Tong.

In 1993, her brother, Brandon Lee, died while shooting The Crow

Shannon Lee's brother, Brandon Lee, died while shooting a scene for the gothic superhero movie "The Crow" on March 31, 1993. He died due to an improperly loaded prop gun that went off during his character's death scene. In addition, the on-set armorer was not present when they filmed it. In the eyes of the crew, everything went as planned until they found the actor on the floor in a puddle of blood. This incident, along with many other mishaps on set, was dubbed "The Crow Curse." Many issues plagued the crew during filming. A storm came in and damaged their set, a carpenter wedged a screwdriver into his hand, and a crew member smashed a car into the props workshop, among other problems.

Lee's death came months before his wedding and a planned move to Los Angeles. Before his passing, Shannon Lee had expressed intentions to move to LA to pursue acting and live closer to him. Their relationship had been a tight-knit one despite the distance between them. Following their father's passing, her brother took on something of a father figure role in Lee's life. "I think he came to view himself as my protector," she told People. "His beauty, his soul, his intelligence, his creativity is still alive with us. ... We love you and miss you so much," Lee said in a Twitter video for the 30th anniversary of his death. 

Shannon Lee used to be an actress

In 1993, Shannon Lee expressed her desire to pursue an acting career to her brother, Brandon Lee. "He told me how excited he was for me to move back ... and to help me get my career off the ground," Lee explained in an interview with ESPN. Sadly, things didn't go as planned due to his sudden death.

Though Lee had something of an acting background from her college days, she was still nervous about this career move. "It was terrifying. I'm not gonna lie," she said in her interview with Tulane University. "I think any new thing that you start ... you're always a little terrified." In the same year, she landed a role as a party singer in the Bruce Lee biopic "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story." She boasted her vocal talents in a scene, singing "California Dreamin'." "That scene that I'm in is where the Bruce character and the Linda character reveal that they're gonna have me," Lee said. 

Two years later, she made a TV debut as the host of WMAC (World Martial Arts Council) Masters. She received nothing but praise from the production crew. "She's the princess of the martial arts community, and she nails everything in the first take," Norman Grossfeld, the executive producer shared with People. Lee continued taking minor roles with a mix of film and TV work until 2012. Though she's still open to taking cameo roles, she's focused her energy on behind-the-scenes work.

She married Ian Keasler in 1994

After meeting at Tulane University and dating for a couple of years, Shannon Lee and Ian Keasler tied the knot on August 22, 1994. They welcomed their daughter Wren Lee Keasler in 2003. Following in the footsteps of her parents, Keasler is studying at her parents' alma mater in New Orleans where she is currently taking up environmental studies and sociology.

Though Lee has a prominent media presence, especially with her efforts to keep her father's legacy alive, her husband has kept a relatively low profile over the years and rarely makes a public appearance. Lee's daughter, however, is a mainstay on her mom's Instagram feed and even makes a cameo every now and then on the Bruce Lee Foundation's socials. In 2020, mother and daughter posted a quick video to commemorate Bruce Lee's 80th birthday. Lee and her daughter shared a heartfelt message for the late Bruce Lee, ending it with, "We're proud to be your family."

Like her father, Keasler tries her best to keep her personal life out of the spotlight. She has a private Instagram account meant for friends and family only. Aside from her occasional cameos, she also helps her mom out with managing Bruce Lee-related social media such as the Bruce Lee Snapchat.

She's an experienced martial artist

As the daughter of a martial arts legend, it's no surprise that Shannon Lee was surrounded by martial arts growing up. Due to her young age, she didn't show as much interest in it as her brother, Brandon, who trained with their father. The relationship with the sport became complicated for both Lee and her brother after Bruce Lee's untimely passing. "After my father died, my brother and I both sort of tended to shy away from the martial arts. I don't know why. It just felt like a lot to continue after he was gone," she said in an interview with Bleacher Report

But Lee eventually warmed to the idea of getting back into it, pursuing it seriously in her early 20s. "I started in JKD [Jeet Kune Do], then I trained in kickboxing with Benny Urquidez for several years. I trained in Wushu, a little bit of Tae Kwon Do, but primarily in kickboxing and JKD," she said.

Though it took her a while to get started on her martial arts journey, it was a big part of her life until personal matters and various businesses became more demanding. "It took me a long time to come to it because my dad was Bruce Lee, but as I get older, I start to see the benefits of it more and more," Lee explained to People.

Shannon Lee keeps her father's legacy alive through the Bruce Lee Family Company and the Bruce Lee Foundation

Shannon Lee takes her job of safeguarding her father's legacy seriously — even if it means calling out Quentin Tarantino. She runs the Bruce Lee Family Company and sits on the board of the Bruce Lee Foundation. "There's the business side where we license the content of my father ... and then we have our production entity ... where we create new film, and TV projects and content," the Bruce Lee Family Company CEO shared in an interview with Tulane University. Aside from the numerous films she's produced, such as the documentary "I am Bruce Lee," she also launched the Bruce Lee Podcast in 2016.

On the other side of things, she shares Bruce Lee's teachings through her nonprofit organization, the Bruce Lee Foundation. "My mission is to share my father's life and legacy with as many people as I can — through as many means as I can — in support of as much healing and confidence and kindness-building as is possible," she explained in an interview with Penta.

"We're really wanting to focus more on this idea of mental wellness through a mind-body-spirit lens, and in particular, focusing on our youth," Lee said to The Ethics Incubator. In addition to camps, museum partnerships, and various other exhibits the foundation holds, it also provides BIPOC students with scholarship opportunities.

She has focused her energy on behind-the-scenes roles

After Shannon Lee's foray into acting, she continued to executive produce numerous TV series and movies. Though she has focused her efforts on behind-the-scenes roles, she doesn't mind switching it up. "I always still have a little drive to be in front of the camera just because it's a great opportunity for me to attempt to be expressive within my whole person in a very direct way," Lee said in an interview with Tulane University. 

Acting is still a craft she enjoys, though she admits she finds it taxing emotionally. "I will say for my own mental health, it's really hard being an actor. It's a lot of rejection; it's a lot of objectification. It's putting this business layer on top of a very expressive art form that can be really challenging."

Lee seems to have found the sweet spot in terms of her creative outlet. "I like being behind the camera rather than in front," she explained. "I like creating the stories and then bringing them to life; that's a really special job." In 2019, Lee executive produced "Warrior" with the help of Justin Lin of the "Fast & Furious" franchise. "This show is based on a treatment that my father wrote. And the thing I want to sort of get across the most is: beautiful, multifaceted, authentic Chinese stories and characters, and also just have this be an extension of his legacy," she told Entertainment Weekly.

Shannon Lee advocates for actors to have mandatory gun safety training

"I think that mandatory gun safety training (should be required) for the actor so that they can check the guns themselves and know how to use them appropriately, and so that they can keep others safe," Shannon Lee told Agence France-Presse in 2021. This statement came a month after the tragedy on the "Rust" set, where cinematographer Halyna Hutchkins died after getting shot by Alec Baldwin with a real lead bullet from a prop gun. This hits close to home for Lee because her late brother, actor Brandon Lee, met the same fate on the set of the 1993 film "The Crow." She expressed sympathy for the late actor Michael Massee, the actor who fired the shot that accidentally killed her brother, and for Baldwin.

Shortly thereafter, Lee wrote a guest column in Variety where she expressed her frustration with the state of gun safety on film sets. Aside from reiterating her stance on gun safety training, she also proposed a move away from real guns completely. "Innovating away from real firearms could be seen as a level of care for the basic stress and mental health levels of cast and crew. And the technology exists."

She's a published author

In 2019, Shannon Lee released the book "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee." If it sounds familiar, it's because it's named after one of Lee's popular philosophies. Yes, aside from being a legendary martial artist and actor, he was a philosopher, too. "Even though a lot of what he said was directed towards his martial and combative pursuits, they could really be applied to anything," she told Bleacher Report. 

Her late father's words guided her throughout her life, through death, heartbreak, and other challenges. Lee admits that, in some respects, the teachings became a way for him to "parent" her long after his passing. During the death of her brother, his words were especially helpful. "I came across one quote my father wrote that said, 'The medicine for my suffering I had within me from the very beginning. Now I see that I will never find the light unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel.' That led me on a path of healing and has sustained me my whole life," Lee told People.

"The reason I do what I do is because I am healed by it, and because I am inspired by it, and because I am motivated by it," Lee also said in an interview with Zibby Owens. And by 'it' I mean my father's words, his practices. The way he lived his life. Like, all of that has helped me in my life."