Kung fu legend Bruce Lee might have died from drinking too much water, doctors have claimed nearly 50 years after he passed away.
The martial arts supremo-cum-Hollywood star died aged 32 in the summer of 1973 while in Hong Kong.
An autopsy at the time showed Bruce had died from brain swelling, which doctors blamed on him taking a painkiller.
His untimely passing sparked rumours he may have been assassinated by Chinese gangsters, poisoned by a jealous lover, or the victim of a curse. Another theory was that he died from heatstroke.
Now, researchers have reviewed the evidence to rule that Bruce actually likely died of hyponatraemia.
‘In other words, we propose that the kidney’s inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee,’ the team of experts wrote in the Clinical Kidney Journal.
Film star and martial artist Bruce Lee’s mysterious death may have been as a result of drinking too much water, a new study has claimed
Bruce’s untimely passing sparked rumours he may have been assassinated by Chinese gangsters, poisoned by a jealous lover, or the victim of a curse. Another theory was that he died from heatstroke (Pictured: Bruce in Way Of The Dragon)
Hyponatremia means the sodium level in blood — which your body needs for fluid balance — is abnormally low.
An imbalance causes cells in the body to swell, including ones in the brain.
The study claims Bruce had multiple risk factors for hyponatraemia, including that he was drinking high quantities of liquid, using cannabis — which increases thirst — as well as other factors that decrease the ability of the kidneys, such as the use of prescription drugs and alcohol.
His wife Linda revealed how Bruce had a fluid-based diet of carrot and apple juice in the run-up to his death.
Matthew Polly – who wrote the biography Bruce Lee, A Life in 2018 – refers to repeated water intake on the evening of Lee’s death
Who was Bruce Lee?
Bruce Lee, whose Chinese name was Li Jun Fan, was an American-born actor renowned for his martial arts skills and who helped popularise martial arts movies in the 1970s.
Bruce was born in San Francisco in 1940 but grew up in Hong Kong.
He began appearing in films as a child and learned Kung fu as a teenager.
Bruce’s parents were concerned about his street-fighting and sent him back to live in the US aged 18.
He drew the attention of a film producer while giving a Kung fu demonstraion at a Los Angeles karate competition.
He was cast as the sidekick Kato in The Green Hornet (1966-67).
After struggling to find work he moved back to Hong Kong in 1971 and starred in two films that broke records in Asia.
He used his sudden-success to start his own company and filmed The Way of the Dragon.
His next film called Enter the Dragon was the first joint-venture between Hong Kong and US-based production companies.
And Matthew Polly — who wrote the biography Bruce Lee, A Life in 2018 — refers to repeated water intake on the evening of his death.
The study concluded: ‘We hypothesize that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction: the inability to excrete enough water to maintain water homeostasis, which is mainly a tubular function.
‘This may lead to hyponatraemia, cerebral oedema (brain swelling) and death within hours if excess water intake is not matched by water excretion in urine, which is in line with the timeline of Lee’s demise.’
The researchers wrote that the fact the drinking of water was noted when it is ‘such a commonplace activity’ means it was likely ‘noticeably higher’ than those around him on the day he died.
Bruce has also been reported to have frequently used cannabis and in one letter described himself as ‘stoned as hell’.
Cannabis use can increase thirst and Mr Polly refers in his book to repeated use of the substance on July 20, 1973 — the day Bruce died.
The researchers suggest this may have been driving Bruce to drink excess water.
‘Ironically, Lee made famous the quote “Be water my friend”, but excess water appears to have ultimately killed him,’ they wrote.
Bruce’s death came just a few weeks before the release of Enter The Dragon – the first big Western-produced Kung fu film.
He had a near-miss in May 1973 after collapsing and going into spasms after an editing session in a dubbing room with no air conditioning.
‘In other words, we propose that the kidney’s inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee,’ the scientists wrote (Pictured: Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon)
A doctor diagnosed him with cerebral oedema and Bruce admitted that he had eaten some Nepalese hash shortly before the episode.
Bruce featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and was played by Mike Moh.
Last year, his daughter slammed Tarantino’s portrayal of her late father saying it reminded her of how ‘white Hollywood’ had treated him.
In an open letter published by The Hollywood Reporter in July 2021, Shannon, 52, made her feelings quite clear, writing that she is ‘really f**king tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was.’
‘Why does Quentin Tarantino speak like he knew Bruce Lee and hated him? It seems weird given he never met Bruce Lee, right?’ Shannon began the column.
Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee responded directly to Quentin Tarantino, after the auteur again defended his portrayal of her martial arts master father in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (Pictured: Shannon in 2019)
‘As you already know, the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood by Mr. Tarantino, in my opinion, was inaccurate and unnecessary to say the least,’ she later wrote, going on to add: ‘I’m really f**king tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was.
‘I’m tired of hearing from white men in Hollywood that he was arrogant and an a**hole when they have no idea and cannot fathom what it might have taken to get work in 1960s and 70s Hollywood as a Chinese man with (God forbid) an accent, or to try to express an opinion on a set as a perceived foreigner and person of color,’ she continued.
‘I’m tired of white men in Hollywood mistaking his confidence, passion and skill for hubris and therefore finding it necessary to marginalize him and his contributions.
Pictured: Bruce featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood played by Mike Moh, alongside Brad Pitt
‘I’m tired of white men in Hollywood finding it too challenging to believe that Bruce Lee might have really been good at what he did and maybe even knew how to do it better than them.’
Speaking on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Tarantino pushed back on her comments, saying Lee was ‘kind of an arrogant guy. The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up.’
‘Where I’m coming from is… I can understand his daughter having a problem with it. It’s her f***ing father, all right, I get that. But anybody else, go suck a d**k,’ Tarantino said flippantly, as Rogan started laughing.
What is hyponatraemia?
Hyponatraemia means the sodium level in your blood is below normal and is the most common electrolyte disorder. It is more common in elderly people.
Your body needs sodium to be able to balance fluids and control your blood pressure, nerves and muscles.
The normal blood sodium level is 135 to 145 milliequivalents per litre.
What causes hyponatraemia?
Causes of hyponatraemia include:
- Excessive thirst – Causes too much fluid intake
- Kidney failure – The kidneys cannot rid the body of excess fluid
- Congestive heart failure – Excess fluid builds up in the body
- Diuretics (water pills) – Makes the body get rid of more sodium in the urine
- Severe vomiting or diarrhoea – The body loses a lot of fluid and sodium
- Antidepressants and pain medication – May cause more sweating and urinating than normal
What are the symptoms of hyponatraemia?
Symptoms of hyponatraemia include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of energy
- Muscle weakness, twitching or cramps
- Restlessness or a bad temper
- Headache, confusion or fatigue
- Seizures or coma
How is hyponatraemia treated?
Treatment for hyponatraemia varies on the severity but the first step may be to cut back the amount of liquids you drink or adjust your diuretic (water pill) usage.
Your GP may also recommend an IV drip of sodium solution, prescribe sodium retaining medicines or dialysis.