On May 10, 1973, Lee collapsed during an automated dialogue replacement session for Enter the Dragon at Golden Harvest in Hong Kong. Suffering from seizures and headaches, he was immediately rushed to Hong Kong Baptist Hospital, where doctors diagnosed cerebral edema. They were able to reduce the swelling through the administration of mannitol. The headache and cerebral edema that occurred in his first collapse were later repeated on the day of his death.
On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong to have dinner with actor George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Lee’s wife Linda, Lee met producer Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. at home to discuss the making of the film Game of Death. They worked until 4 p.m. and then drove together to the home of Lee’s colleague Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress. The three went over the script at Ting’s home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting.
Later, Lee complained of a headache, and Ting gave him the painkiller Equagesic, which contained both aspirin and the tranquilizer meprobamate. Around 7:30 p.m., he went to lie down for a nap. When Lee did not come for dinner, Chow came to the apartment, but he was unable to wake Lee up. A doctor was summoned, and spent ten minutes attempting to revive Lee before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Lee was declared dead on arrival, at the age of 32.
There was no visible external injury; however, according to autopsy reports, Lee’s brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams (a 13 percent increase). The autopsy found Equagesic in his system. On October 15, 2005, Chow stated in an interview that Lee died from an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer meprobamate, the main ingredient in Equagesic, which Chow described as an ingredient commonly used in painkillers. When the doctors announced Lee’s death, it was officially ruled a “death by misadventure”.
Lee’s wife Linda returned to her hometown of Seattle, and had Lee’s body buried in Lake View Cemetery in Seattle. Pallbearers at Lee’s funeral on July 25, 1973, included Taky Kimura, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Dan Inosanto, Peter Chin, and Lee’s brother Robert. Around the time of Lee’s death, numerous rumors appeared in the media. Lee’s iconic status and untimely death fed many wild rumors and theories. These included murder involving the triads and a supposed curse on him and his family, rumors that persist to the present day.
Donald Teare, a forensic scientist, recommended by Scotland Yard, who had overseen over 1,000 autopsies, was assigned to the Lee case. His conclusion was “death by misadventure” caused by cerebral edema due to a reaction to compounds present in the combination medication Equagesic. Although there was initial speculation that cannabis found in Lee’s stomach may have contributed to his death, Teare refuted this, stating that it would “be both ‘irresponsible and irrational’ to say that [cannabis] might have triggered either the events of Bruce’s collapse on May 10 or his death on July 20”. Dr. R. R. Lycette, the clinical pathologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, reported at the coroner hearing that the death could not have been caused by cannabis.
At the 1975 San Diego Comic-Con convention, Lee’s friend Chuck Norris attributed his death to a reaction to the combination of the muscle-relaxant medication he had been taking since 1968 for a ruptured disc in his back and an “antibiotic” he was given for his headache on the night of his death. In a 2017 episode of the Reelz TV series Autopsy: The Last Hours of…, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Hunter theorized that Lee died of adrenal crisis brought on by the overuse of cortisone, which Lee had been taking since injuring his back in a 1970 weightlifting mishap. Hunter believes that Lee’s exceptionally strong “drive and ambition” played a fundamental role in the martial artist’s ultimate demise.
In a 2018 biography, author Matthew Polly consulted with medical experts and theorized that Lee died from cerebral edema caused by over-exertion and heat stroke; and heat stroke was not considered at the time because it was then a poorly-understood condition. Furthermore, Lee had his underarm sweat glands removed in late 1972, in the apparent belief that underarm sweat was unphotogenic on film. Polly further theorized that this caused Lee’s body to overheat while practicing in hot temperatures on May 10 and July 20, 1973, resulting in heat stroke that in turn exacerbated the cerebral edema that led to his death.
Watch The Video Below!