Bruce Lee the most famous martial arts movie actor of all time, passed away at the tender age of 32 from a cause so strange that it keeps arising speculation 47 years after it happened.
It is surely the most contested autopsy in popular culture. Cerebral edema. That is the official and earthly cause of Bruce Lee’s death on July 20, 1973. However, 47 years later, the mystery continues. The first and most explosive martial arts star lived as a myth and transcended as a legend, so the world seems unable to accept that he died from an allergic reaction to aspirin. Lee is not the first celebrity whose death awakened conspiracy theories, but his mysterious passing generated more rumors.
Conspiracy theorists blamed Lee’s death on the Chinese Mafia, the Italian Mafia, drug use, jealous kung fu masters, and even a family curse that has continued to haunt his descendants. In fact, his son, the actor Brandon Lee, died at 28 in a strange episode when he was filming The Crow. Bruce Lee’s life was so short (he died at the age of 32) that the mystery surrounding his death behaves like stubborn mythology that resists offering a final resolution.
The Public’s Fascination With Bruce Lee
Marcos Ocaña, who published three books on Bruce Lee (the last, The Bamboo Warrior, is the better known because Jorge Lorenzo assured that it is his favorite book and helped him win the MotoGP World Cup), considers that the collective fascination with Lee stems from his philosophical character.
“His Zen way of life aspired for perfection and honesty. The famous book ‘Be water, my friend’ referred to that a martial artist must be able to adapt to any circumstance, to face someone greater, smaller, faster, or two people. He lived the racism in Hollywood and he was always able to reinvent himself and overcome these adversities thanks to this philosophy.”
Bruce Lee’s “Hash” Problem
Enter the Dragon was his first job in Hollywood, produced by a large studio (Warner), and Lee knew he was risking his career.
“Bruce was in a very critical condition. We extracted a lot of hash from his stomach. In Nepal, there have been cases of neurological problems derived from the consumption of hashish, especially cerebral edema. Bruce said he used to chew it because he was under a lot of pressure .”
This is Peter Wu, the doctor who treated him two months before his death after a seizure attack in which his brain swelled.
Bruce Lee Death: The Official Version
Two months after the premiere of Enter the Dragon came the fateful July 20, 1973. That day, Bruce Lee was working on his next movie, Game of Death, to
which he visited his co-star, Betty Ting Pei, at her home in Hong Kong. Here starts the official version of events: at 7:30 PM, Lee complained of a severe headache, Ting Pei gave him a prescription pain reliever called Equagesic.
This medicine contained a muscle relaxant that made the actor suffer an immediate allergic reaction. His brain swelled by 13%, from 1,400 grams to 1,575. Bruce Lee was pronounced dead at 10:15 pm, and 45 minutes later, Bruce’s business partner Raymond Chow posted a release. In it, Chow lied about the place of death: he assured that the star had passed away at home accompanied by his wife. Bruce Lee’s wife, the future high school teacher Linda C. Emery corroborated this version and asked that no one speculated about the event to safeguard respect for the figure of her late husband.
Bruce Lee Skeptical Physician
“Nobody dies for an Equagesic pill. No painkiller killed Bruce,” said Bruce Lee’s personal physician, Donald Langford. Why was this information published then? “We must understand something of Chinese culture,” Langford explains. “When Bruce’s body was introduced in the emergency room, all the Chinese present there they marched. They didn’t want to be connected, or even blamed, with the death of Hong Kong’s most popular hero. “
Langford recalls that seconds after Lee’s death, the doctors there met and someone asked that cannabis use be ignored in the official version, thus giving rise to a now-famous phrase from Dr. Donald Teare, a drug expert who testified in the trial: “the cannabis we found in Bruce Lee’s stomach affected his death as much as a cup of tea .”
“They just wanted to present an explanation socially acceptable. Hong Kong authorities wanted to avoid embarrassment: as amazing as it sounds, no Hong Kong journalist has never tried to interview me to talk about Bruce or his death.” — Langford