NEVER MIND THAT HER FATHER, BRUCE Lee, and brother Brandon were titans of the martial arts world. Shannon Lee did not—repeat, not—inherit any of their action-star capabilities. “I get a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I bet you could kick my ass,’ ” she says. “And I go, ‘Actually, no.’ ” In fact the only thing Lee, 26, likes punching are the buttons on her remote control. “I’m definitely the lazy one in the family,” she says. “I once asked my mom, ‘Did Dad ever just veg out, watch TV and eat potato chips?’ She said no. Both he and Brandon had a lot more drive.”
That’s not to say that Shannon has shunned the family franchise altogether. Making her television debut last month as the host of WMAC (World Martial Arts Council) Masters, a weekly syndicated series resembling a martial arts version of American Gladiators, the chipper Lee does commentary and interviews such buff competitors as Tsunami and Lady Lightning. Her pedigree, says executive producer Norman Grossfeld, made her the obvious choice. “She’s the princess of the martial arts community,” he says. “And she nails everything in the first take.” Adds Chris Casamassa, a karate expert who competes under the name Red Dragon: “She and her dad both have that on-camera charisma.” Shannon puts it more modestly. “I’m carrying on a family legacy,” she says.
That legacy, of course, includes more than its share of sorrows. In 1973, when Shannon was 4, Bruce Lee, 32, collapsed and died of brain edema during the production of Game of Death in Hong Kong. Then, two years ago, Brandon, 28, was accidentally killed by a bullet fragment shot from a prop gun during filming of a scene in North Carolina for the movie The Crow. Though no criminal charges were filed against the parties involved, including the production company Edward R. Pressman Film Corp., Shannon’s mother, Linda—a former schoolteacher who married stockbroker Bruce Cadwell in 1991—sued for negligence and received an undisclosed settlement. Unappeased, mother and daughter have continued to lobby for the tightening of union policies regarding filmmaking safety. “I still hold bitterness toward those responsible,” says Shannon. “I hope the seriousness of what happened plagues them for the rest of their lives.”
Such lasting anger is understandable. By all accounts, Brandon, four years older than Shannon, was more than a brother. After their father died he became a caring and watchful—albeit wild-at-heart—father figure. “He was the troublemaker who drove teachers crazy,” recalls Shannon of their childhood in exclusive Rolling Hills Estates, a suburb of L.A. “I was the sweet one.”
Most of the time, that is. After Shannon, a straight-A student, was arrested at 14 with some friends for taking a joyride in one of their mother’s cars, the Harley-riding Brandon—who once punched the principal at Chadwick High School—set her straight. “He sat me down and told me it was okay to have fun but to never take it too far,” she says.
Finding other diversions, Shannon discovered a passion for song and starred in such school productions as The Music Man. After heading to Tulane University to study vocal performance in 1987, she played Belinda in the opera Dido and Aeneas and gave several solo recitals. And though busy filming such action films as Showdown in Little Tokyo, Brandon managed to find time to see her take the stage. Tightening their bond after college, Shannon took a job as her brother’s assistant on the set of 1992’s Rapid Fire. “Working with him was the best,” she remembers. “I got to see how far he had come.”
Despondent for months after his death, she credits her mother with pulling her through. “She is such a strong person,” says Shannon. “She’d been through this before.” Says Linda: “Because Bruce and Brandon were always so positive, we think about what they would want.” The one most shattered by the loss seems to be Eliza Hutton, who was scheduled to marry Brandon two weeks after his death. Once close to the Lees, she hasn’t spoken to the family in close to a year. “I think her way of dealing with it is to keep a bit of distance,” says Shannon. “We’re too much of a reminder.”
For Shannon, such reminders are unavoidable. When she married Ian Keasler, 29, a dealer in African art, in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., last year, the ceremony was tinged with sadness—particularly when Linda walked the bride down the aisle. “Had Brandon been there, he would have done it,” says Shannon. And though she has almost no memory of her father, she finds herself longing for him. “His death still affects me daily,” she says, “in the sense that I wish for what I don’t have.”
Now living in a chic, two-bedroom house dotted with family photos in Pacific Palisades, Lee spends her free time playing the piano, roller-skating and lunching with pals including Picket Fences star Lauren Holly, who played Linda in the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Starring in last year’s straight-to-video action flick Cage II, she now hopes to become a serious actress. “At the movies when I see Sandra Bullock or Winona Ryder,” she says, “I think, ‘I can do that!’ ” But just back from an Alaskan fishing trip with Keasler, her mom, Cadwell and Cadwell’s three children, Lee isn’t depending solely on her career for happiness. “There’s so much I want to do,” she says. “But after all I’ve been through, I realize nothing is more important to me than family.”
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles