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King of Cool vs. King of Kung Fu: Inside Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee’s Rivalry

Like most things, pop culture icons usually have a shelf life, but in Hollywood, there are exceptions. The legend surrounding some actors have gone far beyond their lives and careers, capturing the imagination of generations of movie fans that, in some ways, defies logical explanation. Yet here they are, constantly being discovered by a new audience who ensure that their names will live on. Two of them are Steve McQueen, known as the King of Cool, and Bruce Lee, the undisputed master of martial arts.

McQueen’s acting credits include films like The Great Escape, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillon, while Lee made his name in kung fu films from his native Hong Kong such as The Chinese Connection and The Big Boss, before exploding in America in his first and (sadly) only studio release, Enter the Dragon.

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Both men had to overcome seemingly impossible odds — McQueen a seriously abusive childhood, Lee struggling to make it as a star in a country at a time when it just didn’t seem likely it would ever happen for him. Two people that, on the surface, couldn’t seem more different, yet were united spiritually by a determination to achieve their goals, and as people by the fact that Lee actually became a martial arts instructor to McQueen, which bonded them.

At the same time, there was a serious level of competition that existed between them, much of it stemming from the fact that McQueen was extremely territorial over the status and success he had achieved in Hollywood, while Lee made no secret of the fact that he absolutely wanted what McQueen had and would do what he had to, to achieve it.

Weighing in on that rivalry are authors Marshall Terrill and Matthew Polly, who have written the respective exhaustive biographies, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon and Bruce Lee: A Life.

Please scroll down for more on this legendary superstar competition! 

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