Linda Lee Caldwell is surrounded by 20-plus well-wishers. And she is glowing; charged by their emotional outpourings as each presents his or her tale of what her late husband, the martial-arts superstar Bruce Lee, has meant to them. It is early evening and the hot California sun is slowly setting on the first 'official' Bruce Lee Convention, held at the Hilton Burbank Airport and Convention Centre in Los Angeles. It has been a two-day celebration of the 'Little Dragon', including the screening of a new documentary on the making of Lee's most famous film, Enter The Dragon, and talks by actors and martial-arts experts about their memories of the man. Filling the gaps have been exhibitions of the martial arts that helped make Lee's name world famous. The event has attracted a mixed bag of conventioneers. Among those who pitch up are beefed-up martial-arts nuts, pencil-necked film buffs and pot-bellied fathers tugging their children by the hand. This disparate group, a few thousand strong, is united by their fascination with Lee. If Lee Caldwell is exhausted, she is hiding it well, signing every picture or book proffered and posing for photographs with anyone who asks. Later she says these responses to her former husband's memory, just like the enormous outpourings of grief after his death 30 years ago today, are a source of strength for her. 'He had an incredible impact on people,' she says. 'All you have to do is look around you at this weekend to see his impact. He showed that if you believed in what you were doing, if you were committed, anything could be achieved.' Lee died on July 20, 1973. He was 32 when he was struck down by an acute cerebral oedema, a freakish reaction to painkillers he had taken for a headache while he was with Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei at her Beacon Hill Road home. It was the second cerebral oedema he had suffered: he had been treated in the United States after the first, two months previously, and been given a clean bill of health. Lee died on the brink of mega-stardom, so why has it taken 30 years for an 'official' convention - one supported by his widow, Lee Caldwell, and daughter, Shannon Lee Keasler, 34 - to be held in his honour? Lee Keasler says the reasons are two-fold: firstly, she and her mother have recently launched the Bruce Lee Foundation, formed to preserve 'the art, philosophy and legacy of Bruce Lee'. Secondly, she says it has taken that long for her family to come to terms with just how popular Bruce Lee remains. 'We are just starting out, so we are learning what to do,' Lee Keasler explains. 'We knew there were fans, of course. But it's been a long time coming to grips with all that's happened over the years.' The family suffered a second tragedy when Lee's son, actor Brandon Lee, died in 1993 at the age of 28 during a film stunt. 'My mum thought my father's popularity would ebb,' Lee Keasler continues. 'But it hasn't at all. So we just thought the timing was right: to mark the launch of the foundation and to celebrate his memory.' Lee Caldwell, who remarried a stockbroker named Bill Caldwell, takes up the story. 'Of course it took me a long time to come to grips with Bruce's loss,' she says. 'He did and always will play an important part in my life, and this is a way of making sure his legacy continues. Shannon and I have a responsibility to keep that legacy alive. I feel that in some way he is still here - you can see that by looking around this weekend.' FOR 40-YEAR-OLD CATERER Patrick Webb, the convention is the realisation of a dream. For 30 years, he has led a double life. Mild-mannered Londoner by day, in his spare time Webb transforms into a full-blown Bruce Lee fanatic. He has stacks of magazines, pictures and videos featuring Lee that he has been collecting since childhood, and although he's too embarrassed to reveal how much he spends on such memorabilia, he does own up to a pricey trip to Hong Kong to tread in his idol's footsteps. It is half an hour since the convention opened and Webb is in his element. He is wearing a soccer strip dedicated to Lee, and is clutching his pride and joy: a collection of first-edition Bruce Lee literature, from his first training manual to the book Linda Lee put her name to after his death (The Life And Tragic Death Of Bruce Lee By His Wife Linda). Already he has visited the memorabilia exhibition, including some of Lee's old suits, trading cards, dolls and letters. It made his mouth water. 'I was first drawn to the image of the man, although I know that sounds weird,' Webb says, referring to the classic kung fu poses of Lee he first saw as a teenager in the mid-1970s. 'It was just so powerful. I have been to Hong Kong to look at all the places he lived, and I saw this [advertised] on the internet and knew I just had to come.' Now his eyes are darting around the room. He wants the autographs of people who were once close to Lee, some of whom have been invited to the convention. On the guest list are a smattering of people who worked and trained with Lee, such as actors Bob Wall (Enter The Dragon) and Mako (The Sand Pebbles), as well as convention hangers-on, including former Bond girl Gloria Hendry (Live And Let Die) and Terminator 3 stunt double Alana Curry. Some, including Wall - who played a bearded hippy beaten to death by Lee in Enter The Dragon, and whose hair these days seems to owe more to modern technology than nature - are using the event to publicise such business ventures as gyms and training centres. Others, Curry among them, charge up to US$25 (HK$195) for a signed photo. They can be found wandering around the convention, greeting each other, posing for photographs and signing autographs as they wait for their turn to go on stage in the main ballroom. Once there, they join such sessions as 'Martial arts in the media', at which action-film actors Don 'The Dragon' Wilson (Bloodfist) and Eric Lee (Rambo) talk about the influence on their training of Lee's ground-breaking techniques. Outside, there are demonstrations of almost every conceivable martial art - from kick-boxing legend Benny 'The Jet' Urquidez to Tashi Vince Cecere's Atemi Ryu Combat Jujitsu School - and an array of serious-looking equipment for sale. (Steel whips are seemingly a bargain at $14.95.) 'What you'll find here,' says Cecere, impressive muscles looking fit to burst, 'are your basic martial-arts freaks. But you can't be a martial-arts freak and not be a Bruce Lee freak as well. It's impossible.' Father of two Peter Burke doesn't seem like a freak. He has come to the convention with his eight-year-old son, Chris. 'I wouldn't normally go near these martial-arts guys,' says the 40-year-old. 'But I have been a Bruce Lee fan since I was about 12 so I wanted to see the guys he acted with. And these martial-arts guys aren't that scary at all - they just look it.' Chris seems happy too, engrossed in a new video game, Bruce Lee Quest Of The Dragon, being demonstrated in a nearby booth. The most interest is being generated by a strange booth run by www.kwoon.com , whose logo reads: 'It's like a porno ... but with kung fu ... instead of sex.' The 'it' refers to the company's online action series, Kwoon, about a group of martial-arts crime fighters. Manning the booth is portly 27-year-old Californian Jeff Pagan, a some-time actor. 'People can sign on and we give them different episodes,' he says. 'Of course we are here to sell our product, but the fact we are all martial-arts nuts is a bonus. And there was never anyone bigger than Bruce Lee. So we are kicking back, meeting all these heroes of ours ... and fighting the kids for time on the Bruce Lee games in the next booth.' Among the heroes meeting their fans is Japanese actor Makoto Iwamatsu. He was 32 when he was drawn to Hollywood, changed his name to Mako and found friendship with the in-crowd of the day thanks to a mutual love of martial arts. He found fame quickly thanks to one of that crowd: actor Steve McQueen helped cast him in The Sand Pebbles (1966), a role for which Mako won an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. He also found work on television, in a new series called The Green Hornet alongside Lee. Mako turns 70 this year and looks frighteningly fit. He lives in Hollywood and is still acting. Most recently he has been seen alongside Chow Yun-fat in Bulletproof Monk and playing his trademark evil Asian in the lamentable Pearl Harbour. 'My career has been like a broken elevator,' he says. 'I pressed the button and went straight to the top but then it stopped working that well. It wouldn't go where I wanted. And then it just started going down.' But Mako turns a shade more serious when the talk turns to Lee. 'He really devoted himself to physical things but he constantly closed the gap between his ideals and his reality,' he says. 'He was going beyond the art itself. He was one of the very few people who would refuse something if he thought it wasn't right. Not many actors will do that.' Mako says Lee's philosophy ('Using no way as a way. Having no limitation as a limitation') meant making the most of one's time, always striving to better oneself both physically and mentally. Lee's friendships with McQueen and co, and his growing reputation also helped open doors for Asian actors in Hollywood, says Mako, adding: 'As little as that door has ever been open for us. It is still the old way of thinking here in Hollywood. I think with time it will be busted wide open. That was the way it was going with Bruce until he died.' Lee's former training partner, George Lee, is also at the convention. Now in his 'mid 60s' George Lee remembers first meeting Bruce Lee at a cha-cha lesson in Hong Kong (Bruce was a teenage cha-cha champion) in the early 1960s. 'I had this instructor for cha-cha. It was Bruce and he was really good,' recalls George. 'But afterwards he put on this martial-arts display and I was blown away.' George urged Lee to go to California to give classes. 'I had been studying martial arts for years,' he says. 'But what he showed me was like nothing I had ever seen. He just had this charisma about him that you couldn't escape. You can see it in his films, and you could see it when he met people.' Like James Dean before him, part of Lee's mystique may be the rumours that have swirled around his early death, often spread by Hong Kong's press. Among the claimed 'real' causes of his death are a hit by the American Mafia (who wanted a cut of his talent) or the Japanese Yakuza, and that he died of a drug overdose (traces of cannabis were found in his system after death). Adding to the intrigue was the location of his death at the home of his apparent mistress, Betty Ting Pei. So there was scandal as well as tragedy. But it is Lee's philosophy his fans keep referring to throughout the weekend. 'He was to so many people so much more than just an actor,' explains Webb. 'His philosophy, his advice on how to live your life is one of the things that attracted me to him. And no matter how corny it sounds, he really did change my life that way. When you come here and see all these people, you start to see he has influenced them as well, as an idea of the attitude you should have.' As the conventioneers file into the main hall for the event's finale - a display from the US National Wushu team - Shannon Lee Keasler says, 'The thing with my father was that his view on life, on how to live your life, really speaks to a lot of people.' And a hall full to overflowing with his fans 30 years after his death says it's a message plenty of people still want to hear.