How Elvis Presley’s bodyguard helped launch Bruce Lee’s acting career

Ed Parker, Elvis Presley’s bodyguard and well-known martial artist, inadvertently helped launch Bruce Lee’s legendary film career. Here’s how.

Elvis Presley’s bodyguard inadvertently assisted at the launch that of Bruce Lee legendary film career. Ed Parker, one of the most famous American martial artists of all time, shares important connections not only with the legend of kung fu, but also with the king of rock n ‘roll. Parker, who died in 1990, befriended Lee and Presley during his lifetime.

Parker has a distinguished reputation as the founder of American Kenpo, a popular, westernized version of karate designed for street fighting. Over the years he has opened many schools in the United States and made Kenpo a major form of martial arts. Similar to Bruce Lee, Parker had a number of famous students including Robert Wagner, Audie Murphy, Warren Beatty, and more. But his most prominent student was undoubtedly Elvis Presley, who had a well-documented interest in karate. In fact, a significant part of what he learned comes from Parker. In addition to being Presley’s personal martial arts instructor, Parker worked as a bodyguard in the 1970s. As a result, Parker was often by his side when Presley toured concerts.


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Before getting a job as Presley’s bodyguard, Parker was instrumental in the event that put another icon – Bruce Lee – on the path to stardom. Parker, who was already a well-respected name in martial arts circles in the 1960s, invited experts from around the world to participate in an event he founded, which was called the First International Karate Tournament. Held in Long Beach, Calif., In 1964, the tournament hosted dozens of talented martial artists. One of the fighters he reached out to was Lee, whom he had heard about from a friend. Lee accepted Parker’s invitation but was not invited to compete. After seeing what Lee could do, Parker asked Lee to do a martial arts demonstration to the crowd. This is what ultimately caught Lee’s attention he needed to get into American movies and television.

Lee’s demonstration at the karate tournament consisted of several Wing Chun moves, the thumb punch and more. Famous hairstylist Jay Sebring, who was in attendance, noticed Lee’s talents and acquired a tape of the demonstration from Parker. When TV producer William Dozier saw it, he was so impressed that he made an effort to make Lee the star of a TV show called Charlie Chan’s number one son. Plans for the series didn’t work out, but Dozier kept trying and got Lee the role of Kato in The green hornet. One thing led to another and within a few years Lee became an international martial arts superstar.

Co-featured in The green hornet is widely recognized as the project that jump-started Lee’s career in the film industry – and rightly so – but what made it all possible was Parker’s karate tournament in Long Beach. If Parker hadn’t recognized Lee’s potential and tried his luck with him, it’s unclear what would have happened with his career. Parker decides to put Bruce lee on such a big stage, that’s what started it all.

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