updated 04/12/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 04/12/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
The film's macabre plot was ominous in itself: A rock musician, played by Lee, returns from the dead to avenge his own murder. On March 31, shortly after midnight, Lee was filming a scene in which his character is shot. In a blaze of gunfire, Lee slumped to the floor. But this wasn't acting. Though the gun contained blanks, which usually fire harmlessly, a metallic fragment had somehow lodged in his spine after ripping through his abdomen and causing massive bleeding.
For five hours doctors at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, a few miles from the set, tried to stop the hemorrhaging. But by the time Brandon's fiancée, casting assistant Lisa Hutton, 29, arrived at the hospital later that morning, Lee was already close to death. Linda Lee, 46, Brandon's mother and Bruce's widow, wasn't able to reach Wilmington before he was pronounced dead at 1:04 p.m. Lee and Hutton had been scheduled to wed April 17. "She is gorgeous, very wise and wonderful," he had said just a few weeks ago.
While Bruce Lee had no formal dramatic training. Brandon had attended Boston's arts-oriented Emerson College and studied acting in New York City. But Brandon inherited his dad's love of danger. At home he had been known to race his motorcycle down L.A.'s steep, winding Mulholland Drive—without a helmet. "If I want to put my head in a brick wall, it's my business," he said. Onscreen he did most of his own stunts. Yet he was presciently leery of special-effects scenes, once observing, "There's always an ambulance standing by just in case."