Sources tell Variety that he died in his sleep, between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, local time.
Born in Malaysia as Chan Chi-keung, and educated partly in Hawaii, Chan moved to Hong Kong in 1970. That was just as Bruce Lee mania was at its peak, and was propelling the Hong Kong film industry, which is made up of many exiles from Greater China, into a production boom.
Chan quickly met Jackie Chan through actor Charlie Chin. Jackie Chan was working as a stunt man. With Hong Kong looking for a new male action hero following Lee’s untimely death, Willie Chan found Jackie Chan his first starring role in Lo Wei’s 1976 film “New Fist of Fury.”
Their 38-year relationship weathered the ups and downs of Jackie Chan’s early career, including self-imposed exile in Australia, and an unsuccessful first attempt to break into Hollywood. Hong Kong’s golden era brought both opportunities and Triad gangster interference, which Willie Chan as a talent manager felt directly.
Although unrelated, Willie Chan and Jackie Chan often described themselves as brothers. It was reported that the pair never signed a talent management contract.
A kind and bustling man, who often shielded his bulging eyes behind dark glasses, Chan in 1985 co-founded JCE Group. That was the vehicle for the pair to develop and produce many of Jackie Chan’s movies for the next several decades. They included several of his U.S. titles, such as “Shanghai Noon” and “The Tuxedo,” after Jackie Chan made a more successful second attempt to work in the Hollywood.
Their professional relationship ended largely without rancor in 2009 after Jackie Chan’s fame and wealth made him too difficult to manage. “[Jackie] didn’t need my help anymore and I couldn’t help him with much. There would be many high-ranking officials at the same table, or rich men, and yes men. My words fell on deaf ears,” Willie Chan was quoted as saying.
Chan has producing credits on Stanley Kwan’s award-winning drama 1991 “Center Stage,” presenter on Sylvia Chang’s “Tempting Hearts,” and executive producer credits on Hong Kong titles including “New Police Story” and “Gen-X Cops.”