Brandon Lee never intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. But with his shocking March 31, 1993, death while filming the gothic fantasy The Crow, the all-too-similar fates of father and son would forever be tragically linked.
Brandon was 8 when his father, martial-arts legend Bruce Lee, mysteriously died of a brain edema weeks before the release of his U.S. breakthrough, 1973’s Enter the Dragon. The Hong Kong coroner’s cryptic declaration of ”death by misadventure” fueled theories blaming Lee’s death on either the Chinese Mob or a demonic curse (the same rumors would hang over his son’s demise).
The Crow seemed born under its own curse. Writer James O’Barr conceived the comic-book character, a ghostly Harlequin-faced avenger, after his girlfriend’s violent death. But Brandon, who grew up struggling to escape his father’s long shadow, hoped the film would be his dramatic break from the chopsocky actioners (like Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire) that had launched his career.
From its very first day, when a carpenter suffered severe burns after his crane hit live power lines, the 58-day shoot in Wilmington, N.C., was besieged with troubles. In the following weeks, a grip truck caught fire, a disgruntled sculptor crashed his car through the studio’s plaster shop, and a crew member accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand. The already stressed-out cast and (primarily nonunion) crew were working grueling hours to finish Australian director Alex Proyas’ $14 million American debut on time and under budget, which may have led to the film’s most poignant mishap. The scene called for Lee’s character, Eric Draven, to enter his apartment, stumble upon his fiancee’s rape, and get shot. (With the major shoot-outs in the can, the firearms consultant had been cut loose.) The take looked perfect…but Brandon didn’t get up. The tip of a dummy .44 slug had inadvertently gotten jammed in the barrel of the gun, and the force of the blank sent it into Brandon’s abdomen. After five hours of surgery, the 28-year-old actor died. (No criminal charges were filed, and Brandon’s mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, settled her negligence suit against the film’s producers. The footage of Brandon’s death was reportedly destroyed.)
After much deliberation, the filmmakers finished The Crow as a tribute to Brandon, and upon its 1994 release, the film grossed more than $50 million domestically. It spawned a TV series and two sequels (the third, The Crow: Salvation, is due later this year) and cemented a cult following for Brandon much like his father’s. According to Crow producer Edward R. Pressman, ”There’s an aspect of The Crow that always connects to Brandon.”
Time Capsule: March 31, 1993
AT THE MOVIES, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III cowabungas its way to No. 1 at the box office. ON TV, 46 million Americans watch Clint Eastwood lasso Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for Unforgiven. IN MUSIC, pearly-white Snow accumulates fans with his Jamaican-flavored dancehall hit ”Informer.” AND IN THE NEWS, after meeting with Branch Davidian leader David Koresh in Waco, Tex., a lawyer warns not to expect the monthlong standoff between the religious cult and the FBI to end anytime soon.