No one killed Bruce Lee, according to a new theory: he drank too much water.

bruce lee death new theory

Bruce Lee’s signature movements and larger-than-life action sequences in Hollywood blockbusters helped bring martial arts into the public and popularize the sport. Nonetheless, the method behind his deadly one-inch punch is less of a mystery than what led to his premature demise.

The inability of his kidneys to rid the body of extra water is the focus of a new hypothesis on his death. If urine output is not proportional to water consumption, hyponatraemia, cerebral oedema, and mortality can occur within hours.

The Department of Nephrology and Hypertension at IIS-Fundacion Jimenez Diaz UAM in Madrid has proposed that cerebral oedema due to hyponatraemia may have caused Bruce Lee’s death in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973. The famous martial artist had multiple risk factors for hyponatraemia, one of which was likely a high chronic fluid intake.

A New Theory

There have been many speculations about what may have caused Bruce Lee’s death at the age of 32 in Hong Kong. Possible causes are a gang assassination, heat stroke, cocaine use, or even an Epilepsy seizure.

Bruce Lee, who was born on November 27, 1940, moved to the United States when he was 16 years old, having first studied martial arts at the age of 13. As a 26-year-old, he made his first television appearance as a martial arts fighter in the United States. He had developed his own fighting style, which he called Jeet Kune Do (or the Way of the Intercepting Fist). At the age of 29, he moved back to Hong Kong, where he established himself as a screenwriter, director, lead actor, and fight scene choreographer.

The mysterious death

According to investigations, on the day of his death, Lee smoked marijuana, then drove to the home of Betty Ting Pei, where he reportedly acted out scenes from a film he was working on. Raymond Chow, who has produced several of his films, came there to meet him. Around 7:30 p.m., after drinking water, he began to feel ill. Ting Pei gave him an “Equagesic” pill, and he went to bed. At 9:30 p.m., he was discovered unconscious in his bedroom.

They phoned for help, and a doctor tried CPR without success. A trip to the nearest hospital revealed that Lee was already deceased. His tongue was not bit off, and there were no other external injuries found during the autopsy. The brain weighed in at a whopping 1575 g, well over the average of 1400 g, according to the study’s authors, who attributed this to cerebral oedema.

The coroner’s report concluded that Bruce Lee died from cerebral oedema brought on by an allergic reaction to the anticonvulsant medication Equagesic.

Who killed bruce lee?

Multiple preexisting risk factors were cited by researchers as the cause of Lee’s condition. In May of 1973, he experienced the first symptoms of cerebral oedema, including a severe headache, confusion, and inability to walk. He also lost consciousness.

Author Matthew Polly suggests heatstroke and a diet high in fluids (‘carrot and apple juice’) in his 2018 book Bruce Lee, A Life. When asked about Lee’s health on the evening he passed away, Polly repeatedly brings up his water consumption throughout the day, including the time right before he started showing symptoms of illness.

The fact that water was Lee’s drink of choice on the day he passed away is supported by the fact that he had been smoking marijuana.

Ultimately, the report finds, “Lee had many risk factors leading to hyponatraemia due to interference with water homeostasis processes that regulate water intake and water excretion.”


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