He was THE movie star. The guy we all wanted to be. Somebody who didn't necessarily want to get involved (note the opening scenes in "Fist of Fury") but ended up spinning a couple of nunchucks ("Return of the Dragon") in a back alley with a grin on his face and kicking some serious, um, tail.
Enter Sir Richard
I thought of Lee while watching a video-taped interview of Richard Branson, the Virgin Group billionaire and knight of the United Kingdom, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Likewise, here's a guy who has his own island, is one of the world's richest men and wants to make the world a better place by enhancing sustainability and renewable energy.
Talking to Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group Inc., Branson says every business and individual can make a difference. "Every single decision they make can put the environment first," he says, adding "don't do it in a way that will bankrupt you."
Branson's got that combination of instinct, moxie and ability to make things happen in the business world, much like Lee could do on the silver screen.
Unlike Lee, he doesn't do any leaping kicks (see a particularly neck-breaking fight scene in "Enter the Dragon"). But he does know how to make a point.
Asked for his opinion of Rio + 20, Branson says he's heard "lots and lots" of initiatives and ideas from attendees but "sadly, I think our leaders are letting us down."
Time is not on our side
Others appear to be thinking similarly. Gerard Aziakou of French news service AFP says thousands of protesters marched in support of saving Brazilian rain forest. Rio + 20, he writes, drew representatives from 191 United Nations members, "including 86 presidents and heads of government."
U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon addressed the gathering, saying, Aziakou reports, "The world is watching to see if words will translate into action as we know they must ... It's time for all of us to think globally and long term, beginning here now in Rio, for time is not on our side."
Gauging the results of past summits, this one will likely turn out little in effective policy. But looking deeper into what Branson says may be the key. Cleaning up the world is an individual endeavor. No superhero is going to drop from the sky and clean up our mess. Everybody's got to play a role.
And here, Lee's philosophy may provide some insight. He called his style of martial arts Jeet Kung Do, which he said "is just a name, a boat used to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one's back."
In other words, do what you have to and get on with it.
The battle to improve the planet won't be easy, and every day the situation grows more dire. That means those who can should lead by example wherever possible.
Again, here's a little advice from Lee ("Enter the Dragon"): "A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself."
And remember, Bruce Lee is the only guy to have whupped Chuck Norris. And that's something.