The Mysterious Circumstances Surrounding Bruce Lee’s Death

Published March 22, 2018

Bruce Lee's death has caused controversy over the years, as the circumstances surrounding it seemed just a little too unclear.

Bruce Lee's Death

Wikimedia CommonsBruce Lee’s death has caused much controversy over the years.

When Bruce Lee awoke on the morning of July 20, 1973, he was an active, healthy 32-year-old. He and his wife spent the day meeting with producers for the next film he was hoping to make before heading to the home of a friend for dinner. But, by the time night fell that day, Bruce Lee would be dead, the circumstances of which remain somewhat of a mystery today.

Several months prior to his death, Bruce Lee was diagnosed with a cerebral edema. He’d collapsed during an automated dialogue replacement session for his movie Enter the Dragon and was rushed to the hospital suffering from seizures and headaches. Doctors were able to reduce the swelling in his brain with mannitol and eventually discharged him.

Following his short hospital stay, Lee resumed his usual fitness regime and continued eating his usual diet — a strictly enforced combination of vegetables, rice, fish, and milk, avoiding all baked goods, refined flour, and most refined sugars.

Leading up until July 20, he seemed to be recovering extremely well from his cerebral edema, and aside from complaining of an occasional headache, gave no reason for anyone to worry.

The day of Bruce Lee’s death, he had been working hard. He and his wife were visiting Hong Kong, where many of Lee’s movies were made, and had been meeting with producer Raymond Chow for most of the day discussing his upcoming movie. After the meeting, Bruce went to a friend’s house.

Around 7:30 in the evening, Lee complained of a headache. The friend whose home he was at, a Taiwanese actress named Betty Ting Pei, gave Lee an Equagesic, a painkiller containing aspirin and a tranquilizer known as meprobamate. After taking it, he went to lie down.

After a few hours, when Lee didn’t come down for dinner, Ting went up to check on him, finding him unresponsive. She called Chow back to the home, who attempted to wake Lee, but was unsuccessful. They were forced to call a doctor, who spent ten more minutes attempting to revive Lee, but eventually sent him to a nearby hospital in an ambulance.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Lee was dead.

Bruce Lee Brandon Lee

Wikimedia CommonsBruce Lee and his son Brandon Lee.

Due to the fact that there was no external physical injury, Lee was given an autopsy, which found that his brain had swollen by 13 percent. Before doctors could release the results of the autopsy, Chow claimed that Bruce Lee’s death was from an allergic reaction to the painkiller he had been given. The autopsy report later claimed that Lee’s cause was, officially, “death by misadventure.”

Unlike death by accident, death by misadventure implies that the death was primarily an accident, which occurred due to a dangerous, voluntary risk. Though Equagesic was not considered dangerous to take (though it was later discontinued), a forensic pathologist believed that the compounds in the painkiller caused the second cerebral edema.

Though there was an official coroner ruling, which was backed up by several following investigations, countless conspiracy theories have surfaced over the years. Like other Hollywood stars like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, who also died of drug complications at young ages, it seemed to the public that that answer just wasn’t good enough.

Lee’s friend Chuck Norris claimed that there had been an interaction with muscle relaxants that Lee was taking, causing his death. Norris’ words sparked a debate about what else Lee was taking, whether they be stimulants to keep him in shape, or herbal supplements to keep him healthy.

There was also a rumor that Bruce Lee’s death was caused by a prostitute, whom he had gotten violent with. The rumor claims that Lee was under the influence of a powerful aphrodisiac, that caused him to lose control. The prostitute then killed him in self-defense. However, given Lee’s physical prowess, it’s unlikely anyone could have overpowered him.

Some fans of Lee’s who had heard that the fatal dose of Equagesic was administered by Betty Ting Pei claimed that she had poisoned him on purpose and that she had been working for a secret society that wanted Lee dead. Though, of course, no one knows why the secret society wanted him dead.

Bruce Lee's Death Brandon Lee Graves

WIkimedia CommonsThe graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee.

Other theories have been floated around, blaming everyone from the Mafia (Italian, Chinese, and American) to his fans, to his family for his death. But perhaps the most believable (besides the official report) is the theory of the Lee family curse.

Those who believe in the Lee family curse believe that, of course, the Lee family was cursed, going back several generations. Of course, one Lee death does not a curse make, but two? Two is more believable.

When he was 28 years old, twenty years after his father died, Bruce Lee’s son Brandon was killed in a freak accident. While working as an actor on the movie The Crow, Lee was shot when a prop gun that wasn’t meant to be loaded accidentally went off, firing a live round into his abdomen, mortally wounding him. Like his father, rumors of conspiracy surrounded his death even after the official ruling was an accident.

Though the official word was that Bruce Lee’s death was an accident, the circumstances remain blurry. Conspiracies like murder and poisoning do seem like a joke, but when one hears about his son, rumors of a curse begin to seem a little too real.


Next, read these 40 Bruce Lee quotes that will change your life. Then, check out the strange death of Edgar Allan Poe.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.
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