How Did Bruce Lee Die? (Hint: It May Have Been Related to His Sweat Glands)

Of the entire world pop-culture icons who met an premature loss of life—like Marilyn Monroe,  Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson—Bruce Lee is most likely the one one for whom there’s no professional consensus as to the reason. For 45 years, fanatics, mavens and forensic pathologists have presented other theories, starting from the supernatural (killed by way of an historic curse or unhealthy feng shui) to the ridiculous (poisoned by way of Eastern ninjas). Conspiracy theorists blamed his luckless mistress, portray her as a sinister black widow.

Now, the primary authoritative biography of the crossover martial-arts film big name, Bruce Lee: A Lifestyles, finds the real timeline of his closing day and a compelling new cause of his death.

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A headache, a sleep, then panic

His ultimate day on earth began neatly. At the morning of July 20, 1973 in Hong Kong, the 32-year-old box-office phenom met with Australian actor George Lazenby, who performed James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Carrier (1969), to provide him an element in his upcoming movie Sport of Loss of life. Lee, a kid actor who went directly to world reputation for hits like Fist of Fury and the TV display “Inexperienced Hornet”—and was once arguably accountable for popularizing the martial-arts movie style within the West—had already begun generating motion pictures himself.

After assembly with Lazenby, Lee determined to discuss with the condominium of his mistress, Betty Ting Pei, for a “nooner.” Round 6 p.m., Raymond Chow, Lee’s industry spouse, arrived. The 3 of them have been scheduled to satisfy Lazenby for a celebratory dinner, however ahead of they left, Lee complained of a headache. Betty gave him one in every of her prescription ache medicines, which contained aspirin. Lee informed Chow to move on with out them. He went to lie down on Betty’s mattress—and by no means were given again up once more.

When Betty couldn’t wake Lee two hours later, she referred to as Chow on the eating place in a panic. He raced over to her condominium, however it was once too overdue: Essentially the most well-known guy in Hong Kong was once already lifeless. To steer clear of a scandal, Chow referred to as an ambulance and had Lee transported to a close-by health facility, the place the medical doctors persisted to paintings on his useless frame ahead of stating his time of loss of life as 11:30 p.m. Chow then informed the media that Lee had collapsed at house together with his spouse, Linda.

Betty Ting Pei

Betty Ting Pei poses subsequent to a Bruce Lee portrait all through an exhibition opening about him at the 30 anniversary of his loss of life in Hong Kong, 2003. (Credit score: Thomas Cheng/AFP/Getty Pictures)

After the tabloid feeding frenzy got here the faux bombs

But if an intrepid reporter exposed the reality 3 days later, the tabloids went wild. The China Superstar ran a double-entendre headline: “Betty Ting Pei’s Aromatic Chamber Killed the Dragon.” Andre Morgan, who labored with Lee and Chow, says, “The tales have been rampant: tales about him demise from an overdose, demise from screwing an excessive amount of, demise with an erection, demise from being hacked to loss of life by way of younger thugs, poisoned by way of his servant. There was once one tale that he wasn’t in point of fact lifeless.”

This fevered hypothesis had real-world penalties and temporarily took a flip for the in point of fact scary. Scholars in Kuala Lumpur demonstrated, sporting placards that learn: “Betty Killed Bruce.” Rumors started spreading in Hong Kong {that a} hit have been taken out on her lifestyles. In early August, a bomb danger was once referred to as in to the police, who found out in a public sq. a suspicious brown paper bundle coated in Chinese language writing: “Betty Ting is aware of the reason for Bruce Lee’s loss of life.” The bomb grew to become out to be a hoax, crammed handiest with garbage, however over the following few weeks 3 extra faux bombs have been planted around the town with such messages as “Revenge for Bruce Lee.”

The federal government’s inquest couldn’t remedy the thriller

The British colonial govt may safely forget about a celeb scandal, however bomb threats have been every other subject. To revive self assurance and calm, officers ordered a full-scale inquest into Bruce Lee’s loss of life. Downside was once, not one of the mavens may agree on why Lee died. The post-mortem had printed the scientific reason why—cerebral edema (swelling of the mind)—however the coroner had no concept what had led to it. Two of Bruce’s medical doctors blamed the hash he had ate up that afternoon, however the concept was once temporarily disregarded since it’s scientifically not possible for hashish to reason a cerebral edema. With the investigation at a standstill, the federal government flew in knowledgeable from London who presented a singular speculation: serious allergy to aspirin, or anaphylactic surprise.

With none higher choices, the federal government accredited this conclusion and attempted to transport on.

Maximum of Lee’s fanatics didn’t. Lee was once a hardcore martial artist who had taken aspirin maximum of his grownup lifestyles with none negative effects. Additionally, anaphylaxis, a serious allergy, is sort of at all times accompanied by way of different signs—an enflamed trachea, neck, tongue and lips, in addition to hives and purple itchy pores and skin in and across the mouth. In deadly instances, the swelling of the throat blocks the airway leading to asphyxia and cerebral edema. The post-mortem printed no signs of anaphylaxis. It couldn’t were an aspirin hypersensitive reaction that killed Bruce.

Bruce Lee, right, on the set of Enter the Dragon.

Bruce Lee, proper, at the set of Input the Dragon. (Credit score: Warner Bros. Footage/Sundown Street/Getty Pictures)

Warner Bros. Footage/Sundown Street/Getty Pictures

A prior incident, and a conceivable solution

The mavens have been so keen on what had came about on July 20 that they didn’t adequately believe previous proof. A number of months ahead of his loss of life, Lee had an operation to take away the sweat glands from his armpits, as a result of he idea dank pits regarded unhealthy on-screen. This decreased his frame’s skill to expend warmth. Ten weeks ahead of his loss of life on Would possibly 10, Lee walked right into a tiny dubbing room to re-record discussion for Input the Dragon. The engineers grew to become off the air conditioner to steer clear of having its noise damage the soundtrack. After about half-hour on this sauna-like room, Lee fainted and began convulsing. He was once rushed to the health facility and just about died from a cerebral edema. The medical doctors identified and handled it within the nick of time.

None of them learned his cave in was once perhaps because of warmth stroke, some of the commonplace killers of younger athletic males in the summertime months. In america by myself, a median of 3 highschool and faculty soccer gamers die once a year of warmth stroke. A commonplace discovering within the post-mortem of heat-stroke sufferers is cerebral edema. “An individual who has suffered one warmth stroke is at higher possibility for every other,” says Dr. Lisa Leon, knowledgeable in hyperthermia on the U.S. Military Analysis Institute of Environmental Medication. “Sufferers enjoy multi-organ disorder all through the hours, days and weeks of restoration, which will increase the chance of long-term incapacity and loss of life.”

In keeping with data on the Hong Kong observatory, July 20, 1973, was once the freshest day of the month that 12 months in tropical Hong Kong. The oppressive warmth was once weighing closely on Lee and Chow. “Bruce wasn’t feeling rather well,” Chow informed me, revealing main points by no means in the past reported. “I wasn’t feeling rather well both. I feel we had some water, after which he was once performing.” In Bruce’s effervescent enthusiasm over Sport of Loss of life and Lazenby’s doable participation in it, he jumped up and started acting scene after scene. “He was once at all times very energetic,” Chow informed me. “In telling the tale, he acted out the entire thing. So, that most definitely made him really feel just a little drained and thirsty. After a couple of sips he looked to be just a little dizzy.”

At this level he complained of a headache, a commonplace symptom of hyperthermia, took the ache medicine Betty presented him and went to lie down. In contrast to on Would possibly 10, nobody suspected the rest was once mistaken and he died ahead of any person may get him to a health facility to regard him for the cerebral edema—which is retrospect turns out obviously to were led to by way of warmth stroke.

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