Bruce Lee

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The murder of Sharon Tate is one of the most memorable crimes in the history of Hollywood. The 26-year-old actress was widely adored by fans and costars alike, and, following her death, everybody had the same question: who would brutally kill such a kind-hearted, beautiful young woman? Her husband was especially diligent about finding and bringing her killer to justice. At one point, he even suspected that the most famous martial-arts instructor in the history of Hollywood may have been behind Tate’s devastating death. But what exactly led him to think that Bruce Lee murdered his wife?

Polanski’s pressure to find the killer

The brutal slayings of Sharon Tate and her four party guests left the peaceful, hippie era of Hollywood in shambles. When Sharon Tate died, she left behind reams of mourners, including her husband, Roman Polanski. The Polish director was conducting film research overseas at the time of the attack, unable to help or comfort his wife in her final moments, likely placing a burden of guilt on his shoulders. However, Polanski wasn’t only mourning the loss of his wife. He was coping with the slaying of his unborn child, who was eight-and-a-half months along at the time of the Manson Family murders. As anyone who just lost the love of their life and their soon-to-be child would be, Polanski was both utterly heartbroken and completely furious. He was desperate to find the person responsible for the horrific crimes and make them pay for their actions. His paranoia and depression caused him to point his finger at a fairly surprising subject: none other than Bruce Lee. But how did Bruce Lee tie into the lives of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski…and why would Polanski believe that Lee was capable of murder?

Their connection with Bruce Lee

By the late 1960s, Bruce Lee had established himself as Hollywood’s prime martial-arts instructor. After Tate’s ex-boyfriend and celebrity hairstylist, Jay Sebring, saw Lee perform at a martial-arts show, he was captivated by the high-kicking, fierce-fisted star. Lee was desperate to break into the Hollywood film scene, and Sebring, who still kept in touch with Tate and her husband, invited all three over to have dinner with him. Sebring suspected that Lee and Polanski would get along well, and before long, Polanski was providing Lee with a leg-up in the movie industry as he trained with the famed director. Lee also helped Tate do martial-arts training for the spy-fi comedy, “The Wrecking Crew,” in 1968. It seemed like the relationships between Lee and Tate/Polanski were positive. However, the murder of Sharon Tate shook Polanski to his core, making him hypervigilant, angry, and eager to capture his wife’s murderer. All it took for Polanski to accuse Lee of murder was for the martial-arts master to admit a simple detail about an item of his that had gone missing.

Why was Lee a suspect?

After the murders were committed, the L.A.P.D. was lost for leads. Everyone and their dentist had ideas about who had brutally killed Tate and her friends, from the mafia to drug dealers to fellow actors/actresses to producers. Polanski, however, believed that it was someone who knew the family well, as the job was calculated, violent, and full of overkill. He was so determined to find the killer that he conducted an investigation entirely separate from that of the police, doing his own detective work to locate clues about the murder. He was particularly interested in a particular piece of evidence left behind at the crime scene: a pair of glasses. Polanski found out the prescription and began to test it against close friends of his and Tate’s who wore glasses. During a conversation with Lee during a studio training session, Polanski was horrified to find out that Lee had recently lost track of his glasses and hadn’t been able to locate them. By admitting his carelessness, Lee immediately made himself a suspect in Polanski’s investigation.

Polanski’s suspicion also likely stemmed from the fact that Lee was powerful, quick, and highly skilled in combat. If anyone could take down a room full of people singlehandedly, it would be Bruce Lee. Fortunately, when Polanski went to purchase Lee another pair of glasses as a “gift,” he found that the two prescriptions did not match one another. The true murderers, Charles Manson and his followers, were arrested a few months later, putting Polanski’s suspicions to rest. However, considering how coincidental it was for Lee to lose his glasses around the time of the murders, it’s understandable why Polanski thought Lee may have been responsible.