Brandon Lee’s Death: Everything To Know About Bruce Lee’s Son & His On-Set Accidental Death

The on-set accidental shooting of Halyna Hutchins has resurfaced the painful memories of Brandon Lee, who was similarly killed while filming 'The Crow' in 1993. Here's what you need to know.

Reading Time: 5 minutes
View gallery

When the world learned that cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza injured after Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of Rust, one name sprung to the mind of many: Brandon Lee. The son of Bruce Lee died in an eerily similar fashion nearly thirty years before Halyna’s death, and his name began to trend on Twitter. This prompted Brandon’s family to issue a statement on Haylna’s passing. “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on Rust,” tweeted the official Brandon Lee Twitter account, which is run by his sister, Shannon Lee (per CNN). “No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

For those unaware of how Brandon’s promising career and young life was cut short, here’s what you need to know.

Brandon Lee Was An Up-And-Coming Actor

Brandon Lee (Lacy Atkins/AP/Shutterstock)

Brandon Bruce Lee, born on Feb. 1, 1965, was only 28 when he died. The son of Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell, Brandon grew up in California and followed in his father’s footsteps. Brandon’s first on-screen roles came in the late 1980s, appearing in the television film Kung Fu: The Movie and films Legacy of Rage and Laser Mission. In the early 1990s, his career began to gain traction. While his role in Showdown in Little Tokyo, where Brandon starred opposite Dolph Lundgren, failed to win over audiences and critics, it has become a cult classic. 1992’s Rapid Fire fared better, and Brandon began to show that he had the qualities to be a leading man in Hollywood. While filming Rapid Fire, he landed the part of Eric Draven, the lead role in the big-screen adaptation of James O’Barr’s underground comic, The Crow.

Brandon Lee Was Shot On The Set Of ‘The Crow’ 

It was 12:30 in the morning on March 31, 1993, day 50 of a 54-day shoot, when the unthinkable happened (h/t Washington Post.) Lee was filming a scene where his character, Eric, walks into his apartment while carrying a grocery bag and is shot several times. Michael Massee, the actor who played Funboy, was supposed to fire his .44-caliber revolver at Lee from a distance of about 15 feet, according to Entertainment Weekly’s story on the shooting. Brandon would then detonate a” squib” (a small explosive charge) in the grocery bag to simulate the rip-and-shred effect of the bullet.

J.B. Jones, the film’s special-effects coordinator, had years of experience with weapons on the TV series Miami Vice. Jeff Imada, the stunt coordinator, was also on hand. A crew of 75 to 100 people watched as Massee fired the gun. The squib detonated, and Brandon Lee fell to the ground. He didn’t get up, and that’s when everyone realized something was wrong.

The crew saw that Brandon Lee was bleeding profusely from the right side of his abdomen. He was quickly rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. Doctors discovered a silver-dollar-sized entry wound in his stomach. Surgeons then spent five hours trying to repair extensive vascular and intestinal damage. They attempted to stem the bleeding. Brandon underwent transfusion of 60 pints of blood – the equivalent of an entire supply for five grown men. Despite the efforts of doctors, the internal hemorrhaging caused by the blood’s failure to clot couldn’t be stopped.

Brandon passed away at 1:04 pm EST.

How Did Brandon Lee Get Shot?

Brandon Lee on The Crow. (Pressman/Most/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Doctors removed a .44-caliber bullet from Brandon’s body. How did this happen? There’s no indication that I see at all from the investigative report that anyone intentionally hurt Brandon,” said District Attorney Jerry Spivey in April 1993, per The New York Times. The investigation into Brandon’s death was nearly complete, and he deemed that the death was due to “negligence… Then there’s culpable negligence, that which shows a total disregard for human safety.”

Detectives investigated that the tip of a “dummy bullet” – a cartridge made without the gunpowder or primer, making them incapable of firing – was somehow lodged in the barrel of the prop gun. These “dummy bullets” are used for close-up scenes to make it look like the barrel holds real ammunition. After the close-up is finished, the “dummies” are replaced with blanks. The blank explodes, setting off a flash and burst of smoke, as if a real bullet was fired. It was deemed that a poorly made “dummy bullet” was used and that a tip came apart when the gun was used in an early scene.

When Michael Massee fired the gun with blanks, the explosion propelled the tip of the bullet. That tip struck Brandon and ultimately killed him.

Was Anyone Charged In Brandon’s Death?

“There’s a part of me that wants to file charges and have a trial,” District Attorney Spivey said in September 1993, per The New York Times. “But from a purely legal point of view, I would not feel comfortable, with the circumstances as I know them to be, charging Crowvision [the production company that made the movie] with negligent homicide. There is no evidence pointing to the kind of negligence the criminal law seeks to punish. The kind of negligence the law seeks to punish is the kind described as willful and wanton. You just can’t find that.”

Though no criminal charges were filed, Linda Lee Cadwell filed a civil suit against the studio. It was settled out of court, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“What happened to Brandon was a tragic accident. It’s something I’m going to live with … It took me the time it took to be able to not so much put it in perspective but to be able to move on with my life,” Michael Masse told Extra TV in 2005, per CNN (Masse died in 2016 at age 64). “It’s very personal. It’s something that I wanna make sure when I work that it’s never repeated. Therefore, I’m very conscious of things going awry on set.”