Lover still so glad Bruce Lee came into her life

Betty Ting Pei recalls day kung fu star, 'the first man I respected', died

Betty Ting Pei was sitting in her Jaguar at the Ocean Terminal car park in Tsim Sha Tsui, looking out over a spectacular Victoria Harbour.

It was three days before the 35th anniversary of the death of her greatest love, movie and martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

A song came on the car radio, Blood, Sweat & Tears' You've Made Me So Very Happy, including the line: 'I'm so glad you came into my life.'

It had been on a cassette tape Lee had given her shortly before his death, she said. She has since dubbed the tape on to CD.

'I still have Bruce's stuff in my house,' she confided.

She pointed out how beautiful the full moon looked.

Then quickly, Ms Ting, a still youthful-looking 61, turned to the incident which has shaped her life ever since - Lee's death at the age of 32.

'I have been misunderstood so much all these years and it's been a very deep wound,' she said.

'How can you forget? No matter where you go, people still talk about it and ask about it.

'But I think it shouldn't be forgotten. It should be viewed positively ... I have overcome all these hardships and this should be a lesson for many people - life is something amazing yet mysterious. People give up life too easily these days.'

She added: 'I can't blame people for misunderstanding me. People thought that I was no match for Bruce, but people only looked at things on a superficial level. I had this open-minded and sexy image thanks to the movies I was in. I was a girlfriend of Bruce, and I was seen as an intruder in his family life. People thought badly of me. But that was out of my control.

'Some people even told Bruce not to be friends with me, but he thought that I was good. I thought that was a funny idea, but then it is because of that that I have to live my life and I cannot disappoint him.'

Born in Beijing, Ms Ting moved to Taiwan with her family when she was little. Her acting career began in the late 1960s. She went on to appear in about 40 movies.

'Time flies and life has been like a dream. One can only understand the true meaning of happiness after having been through difficult times,' she said.

Her romance with Lee was unforgettable. She recalled their first meeting at the now demolished Hyatt Regency Hotel.

It was 1972. She was 25 and just back from six months in Switzerland.

'He was the first man I truly respected in my life and I really admired him,' she said.

'Before him, I wasn't serious with relationships, and I knew nothing about love.

'He talked to me about philosophies even though I couldn't really understand what he said. In the past, I didn't understand the meaning of mental and spiritual connection. But now I know.'

At the time, Lee was married to Linda Lee Cadwell. They had two children - Brandon, who was also to die tragically young in an accident during the filming of The Crow - and Shannon.

Lee and Ms Ting dated for over a year before the fateful day of July 20, 1973.

It has been reported that Lee complained of having a headache and Ms Ting offered him one of her painkillers. The movie star then went to sleep and, when he could not be woken, was sent to hospital from her Kowloon Tong flat. Doctors later pronounced him dead.

The former Shaw Brothers star is adamant she wants to keep the exact events of the day from the public. But she stressed that those details were not as suspicious or dramatic as many have speculated.

'He died very suddenly. I hope people can understand that this was an unfortunate incident that was not because of anyone.

'It was heaven's will and no one wanted it to happen. I hope that there can be some justice and people can be reasonable and respectful to Bruce and me,' she said.

'Now the most important thing is to continue to spread his philosophies, which people should discuss rationally.'

Later, she married movie mogul Charles Heung Wah-keung, but the relationship ended in the 1970s.

Then she became a devout Buddhist. In 1978, she became a vegetarian and chose her religion over showbusiness. By the early 80s she had left the industry, devoting her time instead to the study of Buddhism and helping the local Buddhist community.

Now she can memorise mantras of tens of thousands of words. The soulful and spiritual way she recites them easily moves listeners to tears.

'I have peace in my heart and I'm happy for what I have. I sleep well every night,' she said.

And she has loyal friends backing her. Among them are veteran actor and musician Anders Nelsson.

'I was friends with Betty years before either of us met Bruce and I won't abandon a friend just because of the circumstances of history,' Nelsson said.

'Betty has lived in her own world for many years and has dealt with her sorrow in her own way. I know that some Bruce Lee fans hate her, but others also respect her as someone who Bruce was close to and someone who unfailingly keeps his spirit alive without expecting any recognition or reward.

'Personally, I feel that the priority now should be to recognise once and for all the contribution that Bruce made to the world of martial arts and the role of Chinese people in the entertainment industry and as a folk-philosopher.'

Ms Ting's last public appearance was five years ago at a press conference for the 30th anniversary of Lee's death. Back then, she announced her plan to write her autobiography. While she has since written more than 7,000 words, she is not yet happy with the project. She said authors from Taiwan, Hong Kong, the mainland and overseas had offered to serve as her co-author.

'It's complicated because it involves other people. Maybe because I was too demanding, or people didn't understand me ... then later on I didn't want to deal with it. Perhaps it wasn't the right time [to publish the book],' Ms Ting said.

'But now I should be prepared for this. Bruce gave me a lot and he really respected me. So I must not disappoint him.'