Bruce Lee’s death: the true story, the mystery, the legend

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Bruce Lee died on July 20th, 1973 in Hong Kong. When somebody so famous and worshipped as Bruce Lee dies, it’s natural that hypotheses of conspiracy or supernatural legends about the causes of death arise. This is also true when, as in the case of Bruce Lee, the true fame arrives posthumously: the film that will give maximum visibility to the figure of Bruce Lee is Enter The Dragon, which came out a month after his death. And to be honest, the real stimulus to legends and mysteries related to his death came only many years later, when his son Brandon Lee also died in exceptional circumstances, during the filming of The Crow. Since then, there has been widespread popular belief about an alleged curse hanging over the entire Lee family. And the arguments in support of this hypothesis are not few.

The true story and the official reports

The day Bruce Lee died, the actor and martial artist was in his usual good state of fitness. Lee had spent the day discussing the details of the release of his next film with the production, then spending the rest of the evening at the home of Betty Ting Pei, her lover. There were not many doubts about Bruce Lee’s health, except for a hospitalization that took place about a month earlier, when Bruce had just been saved from cerebral edema. Since then nothing more had happened and Bruce Lee himself had reassured everyone that he was okay.

According to official testimony, later confirmed by the autopsy, Bruce had a headache that evening and his lover Betty gave him a normal analgesic, Equagesic. Bruce Lee lay down on the bed and never woke up again. When, at dinner time, Betty tried to wake him up, he saw that he didn’t answer and the first thing he did was calling the producer with whom Lee had spent the day, Raymond Chow. After his arrival, and some failed attempts to reanimate him, they called a doctor. When the doctor arrived, he decided to call an ambulance. By the time Bruce Lee arrived at the hospital, he was already clinically dead.

From the autopsy it emerged that the cause of death was an abnormal expansion of the brain, which increased by about 13% during sleep. The coroner connected it with the analgesic he had taken, perhaps as an allergic reaction or a side effect of a combination with other substances Bruce was taking in those days. Therefore, what killed him was a second cerebral edema. The coroner used the formula “death by misadventure”, which in English differs from “death by accident” precisely to indicate the existence of a voluntary behavior that increased the risk . Despite Equagesic is not being considered a dangerous drug.

The theories about his death

Over the years there have been many theories about Bruce Lee’s death, powered also by the unfortunate fact that the actor didn’t receive medical help quickly enough. The reaction to other substances used by Lee was a hypothesis raised by Chuck Norris, who was his friend and knew him well, although nobody ever clarified which substances he used.

Among the other legends related to his death, somebody talked about the existence of a prostitute, that Lee would have met that day and with whom he would become violent. This allegedly resulted in a manslaughter by the prostitute, as defense.

The most extreme theories speak of an intentional poisoning by the lover Betty, of secret societies that wanted Bruce Lee dead and of the intervention of the local mafia.

The Lee family curse

After the death of his son Brandon, elements began to accumulate to believe in the existence of a real curse on the Lee family. The first to admit it were Bruce Lee’s parents, who interpreted the history of their family according to the traditions of Chinese culture: even before Bruce Lee was born, the other son of Lee parents died as well. The parents in fact called Bruce Lee with a female name (which in Chinese is translated as “little phoenix”), because, according to beliefs, it would have been useful to distract the evil spirits from the arrival of a new male child.

In the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, the hypothesis of the curse has been put on film, in the form of an evil spirit that has always chased Bruce Lee during his life. Towards the end of the movie, during the final fight between Bruce Lee and his demon, the latter finds out about the existence of the little Brandon and suddenly loses interest in Bruce, heading towards the child. To feed the coincidences even more, Brandon Lee died just two months before the release of this movie.

A further argument supporting the theory of the curse goes back to the film that Bruce Lee was filming in the days he died, Game of Death. In the version released after Bruce Lee’s death, Bruce’s character is a martial arts champion who seeks revenge against a criminal organization that wanted him dead. In the movie, the protagonist is killed by the mafia, who shoots him in the set of the movie where he was acting. Fifteen years later, on the set of The Crow, Brandon will die in very similar circumstances, hit by a real bullet during filming.

Back in those days, the death of Bruce Lee raised many debates and over the years the legendary elements around his figure have accumulated. Something that, for celebrities who extend their fame to so many different areas, can be considered natural.

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