The Death of Brandon Lee



01/09 There are plans to remake the original movie The Crow (1994).  As most of you know actor Brandon Lee was fatally wounded while filming The Crow.   There are some that feel that a remake of this film would be disrespectful to Mr. Lee’s memory and his legacy.  If you would like to sign this petition, please do so here.

02/07 There is a band of dedicated Brandon Lee fans, that have started a petition to get Brandon a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  If you would like to sign this petition, please follow this link.

Almost all of the photographs in this story come courtesy of Cathy and Dave Bradford. Cathy (bitch) and Dave (sigh) were residents of North Carolina, and asked me if I needed any help in the area. When I came to them with my plea, they enthusiastically took up the challenge. (Well done Angels!) They went beyond the call of taste and duty, risking life, limb and embarrassment – to obtain these pictures. I’ve wanted to see these locations for years. They did a bang up job. So did Brandon (HRR!). This is how he died.

We all know about Brandon and his famous father, Bruce. Bruce Lee died in Hong Kong in 1973, when Brandon was only 8. At the time of his own death, Brandon was becoming a successful actor on his own, living down the stigma of being Bruce Lee’s son. He was also engaged to marry writer Eliza Hutton. By the way, Brandon lived at 1905 Benedict Canyon, in LA.  Wanna see his mailbox?  Of course you do!  Many thanks to friends Mark Cramer, Lilieth Lawrence and Janet Schiessl for those snaps.

Brandon and Eliza were going to get married right after the filming his latest movie, The Crow, was completed.

Brandon supposedly believed that the males in his family were cursed because his grandfather angered some Chinese merchants. Some say that Brandon was so obsessed with death, that he took to driving around LA in a hearse, and visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. Sounds pretty normal to me. He told friends that he would never live to see 30. Guess what – he was right.

The set of The Crow was plagued with problems from the get go, including one worker that was severely burned by a live electrical wire, another flipped out and drove through the studio’s plaster workshop, and another carpenter accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand. There was one particularly disturbing incident in which an actor was double-checking the gun he was supposed to shoot a person with, and found a live bullet instead of blanks. These things probably happen all the time, but in retrospect they become very important to this story’s mystique.

The film was being shot in Wilmington, North Carolina, at Carolco (now Screen Gems) Studios. Carolco is located at 1223 N. 23rd Street. They were shooting the film on Stage 4. It was the 50th day of a 58-day shoot. The crew was partially non-union, if that means anything to anybody. (Q: How do you know if a union person is tired? A: They drop their donut.)

Brandon’s last sane words were supposedly, “Bang! Bang! Don’t forget to send flowers!” He was telling another actor to remember to bring the flowers for his characters upcoming funeral scene.

In preparation for the scene – prop man Daniel Kuttner filled the gun being used with blanks. The error he made was not checking the gun barrel for obstructions.

Shortly after midnight on March 31st, 1993, filming the scene began. It was a flashback scene, intended to show how his character was killed. (The premise of the flick was that his spirit returns, and avenges his death.) Brandon was wearing a black leather jacket, black boots, corduroys and a T-shirt with the name of his character’s band on the front, “HANGMAN’S JOKE.”

Actor Michael Masee played a drug dealer that had broken into Lee’s apartment, and was in the process of raping Lee’s girlfriend. Brandon was to enter the apartment, and Masse was to shoot Lee. It went wrong.

Brandon was carrying a grocery bag that contained a small explosive charge, used to simulate gunfire. Massee was to fire a pistol full of blanks at Brandon, from a distance of about 12 feet. Rehearsal went fine. While camera’s were rolling, and the gun was fired, Lee pulled a trigger hidden behind the grocery bag to set off a “squib,” a small explosive device designed to create the appearance of the grocery bag bursting within, stuck by a bullet. After setting off the squib, Lee collapsed on the set, bleeding profusely through the right side of his abdomen. He let out a groan and just collapsed. The scene played on, with Massee’s co-villain muttering in a panic, that Massee had shot the man. Things appeared normal, although Lee didn’t hit the floor the same way as they rehearsed. Brandon motioned with his arm, trying to signal distress, but everyone was too involved in the action to notice. Some thought Lee’s acting was extraordinary. One person on the set remembered hearing a faint call from Lee as he lay clutching his belly on the floor, “Cut, cut, somebody please say cut…” The director yelled, “Cut!” Lee did not get up.

At first the crew thought he was joking, but when realization kicked in, panic erupted – mostly from Michael Massee. Who could blame him?

This next photograph is of Brandon after he was shot. It’s pretty bloody, and if you are offended by this sort of thing, please DO NOT! click here. I only included it because I’m getting a lot of requests for this sort of thing. I didn’t find it too gross, but its crossing a line that I am SURE a lot of you don’t want to cross. Please be warned.

MAY 2002  Unfortunately for us, friend Sandie sends us information which proves that the Brandon photo is not authentic.  Thanks for clearing that up Sandie! xx friend Maria sends this report about that picture:
“Nice try on the picture of Brandon after he was shot – it’s the deleted kissing scene from rapid fire. Sorry if you have been told this a thousand times before but a drinking buddy and I got into a “debate” over the footage that was filmed when he was shot. FYI – because I do think the rest of the Brandon Lee area of your site is VERY tastefully done, here’s the skinny on the footage:

After it was discovered that Brandon was shot the film was put (as is standard operational procedure) in a light tight box and stored (sometimes on the camera truck, or at the production offices) as was the rest of video and stills,then the set was closed, and everyone told to go home, and to stay available for updates to shooting (no pun intended) schedule changes. When it was confirmed he had died, everyone was to stay available for police questioning. Any film, video, stills, etc. from that night was immediately handed over to authorities. After it was examined and people questioned -
it was sequestered for evidence should legal action against anyone take place. this is where it gets fuzzy due to rumor and innuendo :

The reason that Linda Lee Cadwell settled out of court was due to the fact that – to prove negligence – the DEVELOPED – yes developed (as it was studied to find fault and or negligence for police work) film shot that evening in question would be have to be viewed over and over again by jury, and possibly Ms. Lee-Caldwell herself, the stills from the shooting would be displayed as evidence in court for as long as the trial lasted. Obviously too much heart ache for a mother to take. Out of court settlement was
reached, the film, video, and stills from that scene destroyed.

ALSO A RUMOR – this has not been able to confirmed – the reason for the destroying of the film was not only out of respect for the Lee family and Brandon but also to force the film company to use other footage. They had planned on using as much of the footage as possible to finish the scene – when they had to destroy the film that is why the character Eric is not shot in the final version of the film, yet first stabbed (knife thrown by Tin-Tin) and then
shot. The reason rumor flew of the footage being used is due to the close up of Funboys gun – it was that shot shown in the film where the projectile that killed Brandon got stuck in the gun – so you are, in a way, seeing the shot that killed him.”

Interesting.  Thanks for filling in the gap!  – Scott

An on set medical technician attempted CPR, and ordered an ambulance to be called. The crew had to file past Brandon as he lay on the set, to leave the soundstage and wait for the ambulance outside the studio, in the dark. Paramedics arrived, and put inflatable pants on Brandon, to push the blood from his legs back to his upper body.

Brandon was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, located at 2131 S. 17th Street. They arrived at the Emergency Room entrance about 30 minutes after the accident. Lee’s heart had stopped once on the set and once in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Here’s the hospital. Brandon was taken to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) where he was operated on for six hours, and he given 60 pints of blood. His body just wouldn’t hold it. Here’s a close up on the ICU sign.

About 30 people from the film went to the hospital, and waited in the emergency room until morning, when a doctor came out and told them he had done what he could, and it didn’t look good.

The entry would was the size of a silver dollar, and it extended in a straight line to the spine. Surgeon Warren W. McMurry, who attended to Lee, said that Brandon had “suffered intestinal injuries and major vascular injuries consistent with a bullet wound, and that X-rays appeared to show the bullet lodged in Lee’s spine.

Meanwhile, detectives arrived on the set, and reviewed videotape made of the scene during filming, which indicated that Lee’s right side was in line with the angle of the pistol that was fired for the scene. Technicians on the set had unloaded the gun and placed it and the spent shell of a blank round into a plastic bag. They learned that one of the dummy shells in the gun case was missing the slug from its tip.

Brandon’s fiancée arrived at the hospital around noon, and his mother Linda was on her way from her home in Idaho. At 1:03pm, Brandon died. He was 28 years old.

His mother arrived 5 hours later.

Brandon’s body was taken to Jacksonville for an autopsy, where it was confirmed that he died from a gunshot wound of the abdomen.

A press conference was held at the Wilmington Police Station, where the autopsy findings were released. Not sure, but could this be the same station used in the film? Here’s another shot of it.

Detectives say that the gun was loaded with the dummy bullet for a close-up shot. When the gun was unloaded, the slug could have been dislodged from the dummy shell casing, with the tip remaining in the cylinder or barrel. When the blank round was inserted, the pistol could have been discharged like a loaded firearm.

Feb 2002, friend Tony Williams sends this:  Ever wonder how the bullet got stuck in the gun? I saw a show that explained how it happened. It seems they didn’t have any ammo for the close up scene so the prop guy went out and brought some real ammo and removed the bullets and emptied the powder and removed the primers from the cases and then put the bullets back in the cases and loaded the gun for the scene but it seems he forgot one of the primers and during the taping of the close up scene the gun was fired. People said they heard a small bang but nothing happened. But in fact the bullet had lodged itself in the barrel of the gun.   Thanks Tony!

November 2002, a friend sends this in:  One of the guys at the Brandon Lee information page explains his death by saying “there were no blanks available on the set, so someone went out to buy real ammunition”.  First of all, his explanation of the guy pulling the bullet apart were all wrong, and would have led to the bullet being defective altogether.  Second, ALL gun stores and ammunition stores sell blanks.  All of them, for all calibers.

Figured I’d clear up the misinformation.

Brandon’s body was taken to the Andrews Mortuary, located at 1617 Market Street. Here is the building.  UPDATE: Thanks to friend Jamie Farley:  “His casket was a solid copper deposit just like his fathers”  Great info, Jamie. Thanks)  I seem to recall that the crew had a memorial service for him before his body was shipped back west. If that did happen, it happened in this chapel. Friends and family certainly came in through this entrance hall, or sat in this waiting room. I know how Cathy and Dave got these pictures, and it is hysterical. Per Dave’s suggestion, Cathy told the proprietor that she was shopping for a nice funeral home, for their soon to be dead grandmother.  Grandma wanted to see photos of all the funeral homes in the area.  I love it.  (in fairness, grandmother is dead already, so it wasn’t too bad.)  Truly gifted people. I bow to you.

Brandon’s body was flown back to Washington State, and on April 3rd, he was buried next to his father Bruce.

Findadeath pal Rob Hager sent these pictures of Brandon’s grave.

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