The transcript below is from the video “Bruce Lee’s Drug Letters | Did Bruce Have a Drug Problem?” by Goldenbell Training.
We think of Bruce Lee as a pioneer when it comes to not only Martial Arts, but fitness, too. And believe it, or not, Bruce was also a pioneer in the field of strength and conditioning and sports nutrition. He was willing to experiment with all kinds of different training methods and modalities, as well as various types of supplementation that are pretty common today- like creatine supplementation.
So with all of the groundbreaking things in health and fitness pioneered by Bruce Lee, it’s always disturbing to learn about Bruce’s drug use because of the very negative connotations that go along with using hard core drugs. So, this video, I’m going to take on the task of discussing Bruce Lee’s drug letters, and his drug use. So let’s get to it.
What’s up y’all? My name is Prince, and this is Goldenbell Training where it’s my goal to help you all become better martial arts athletes. This video, we’re going to be discussing Bruce Lee’s Drug Letters that were recently discovered. Highlighting Bruce Lee’s strengths and his flaws is not always easy, but it shows my dedication to learning as much as I can about Bruce and sharing what I learn with the people who support me by watching these videos. But hey, man, enough of that. Let’s dive into the details.
So the big question people have is what are these drug letters and why are we just now hearing about them? This story just broke the first week of July this year when the letters were discovered at an auction sale where various memorabilia from Bob Baker and Bruce Lee’s collection went on sale. The memorabilia sold included over 50 letters that Bruce Lee and his wife, Linda, sent to Bob from the late 60s all the way up to April 1973.
Now I’m not going to go through the specifics of the letters. Kung Fu Genius actually read through a lot of them on his podcast, so you can check out his video from a few weeks ago if you want to hear the specifics of the details. To keep things short and sweet, I will say that the letters detailed all kinds of things ranging from their personal relationship, plans for their film careers, and Bruce Lee’s back injury that he had in 1970. You know, like, this is pretty tame stuff to discuss with a friend, but what’s got everyone talking is the not so tame stuff. So there are numerous references to drugs in these letters where Bruce is talking about smoking marijuana, dropping acid, and using cocaine.
In one letter, Bruce Lee is talking about how it took him a day to recover from using Bob Baker’s “Holy Stuff,” and in a few letters Bruce talked about quitting because it was taking away from his training in Jeet Kune Do, but the letters and requests for drugs, they still continued. So the question some of you might have is,”well who is Bob Baker guy?” Bob played the Russian bad guy in “Fist of Fury,” and from these letters, we learned that Bob may have smuggled some drugs to Hong Kong as part of this arrangement the two of them had. Bob was one of Bruce’s Jeet Kune Do students who was helping teach classes at the Oakland school. He was the participant that Bruce demonstrated the One Inch Punch on in 1964, but I think their friendship actually goes back to Wally Jay’s Luau in 1962 where Bruce Lee was first really introduced to the California martial arts community. Bruce actually demonstrated the one inch punch on Bob Baker at the Luau, and he knocked him over a table, according to Leo Fong’s story.
So these guys go all the way back to pretty much when Bruce Lee really hit the martial arts scene in Los Angeles in the 60s, and it had already been long rumored that Bob Baker was Bruce Lee’s dealer, but people only thought that Bob was Bruce’s weed man. Now Bruce’s use of marijuana was something people thought was only a small thing before Matthew Polly’s biography, “Bruce Lee: A Life.” Before Matthew Polly’s book, the thought was that Bruce chewed hash occasionally to deal with his back pain. This was based on Bruce having trace amounts of hash in his stomach when he passed, and the fact that the concentrated form of cannabis that’s found in hash can be used as an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic, and a muscle relaxer. Polly’s book revealed that Bruce was actually a frequent pot smoker, and that he probably started smoking at these Hollywood parties when he was trying to break into the inner circles of these A-list celebrities that he was courting to become his students or to give him a shot at some upcoming movie projects.
I mean, we can’t even say that Bruce did the Bill Clinton thing where he smoked but didn’t inhale because Shaw Brother’s movie star Cheng Pei-Pei, she said that Bruce always smelled like incense, which was a nice way of saying he always smelled like weed. So this raises the question, Did Bruce Lee have a drug problem? I mean, this is really tough because we’re talking about a man who died almost 50 years ago.
And the attitude towards drugs was a whole lot different in 1973 than it is today in 2021. A lot of celebrities and professional athletes were on cocaine casually in the 70s – I mean, if you’re not into basketball, then you may not know that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird pretty much saved the NBA from its cocaine use. We’re hearing that Bruce Lee was getting cocaine shipped to him in Hong Kong, and we’re completely losing our minds, but back then people made a bigger deal over Bruce using marijuana than they did over him having a little bit of nose candy.
So we don’t know how much Bruce was actually using, but I’m going to say that I do think he had a problem based on the amounts of cocaine and the frequency that he was requesting it from Bob. Now Bruce also mentioned using M-pills and experimenting with acid and various hallucinogens with his student, actor James Coburn.
A few years after Bruce’s death, James Coburn started to suffer from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, and while seeking a way to treat his arthritis, he pretty much detoxed from everything – drugs, alcohol, even caffeine. When you read those old interviews of James Coburn, he admits to using LSD regularly in the 60s before it was popular.
Steve McQueen, known as the king of cool, in the 60s was also one of Bruce Lee’s celebrity students. As it turns out, Steve McQueen’s biography written by his ex-wife alleges that he used cocaine frequently.
Now with Bruce, the letters don’t really mention anything about cocaine until after 1972 when Bruce and his family had pretty much moved to Hong Kong. So just like how it was assumed that Bruce started smoking marijuana in social settings around celebrities, it’s possible that he was also exposed to other drugs as a result of his Hollywood insider connections.
So I can’t really say to what extent Bruce was using cocaine. I mean, like Jon Jones is probably one of the top 5 MMA fighters of all time, and we’re learning that he was doing all of this while also abusing cocaine. Maybe Bruce was only using a little bit of cocaine, maybe he was a functional addict, or maybe things were just starting to catch up with him just before he passed. I mean what we know is that Bruce didn’t seem to be well while he was working on Enter the Dragon and leading up to the film’s release.
When you start looking into the story around the Making of Enter the Dragon, like Bruce pretty much worked himself to death. Now when you also look at the possibility that he may have also been using cocaine whether as research for the drug scenes in Enter the Dragon, or for another film we, unfortunately, did not get to see, or if he was using it to self medicate. But look, I can see that cocaine use could have contributed to his passing at the early age of 32.
KungFu Genius interviewed John Little recently, and John talked about Bruce’s ripped physique in Enter the Dragon and he said that it wasn’t from training. Bruce’s muscles did not get any bigger for Enter the Dragon because he was actually about 125 lbs when they started production. By the time the film wrapped, Bruce was down to 120 lbs, so he lost 5 lbs from the heat and humidity, his activity, and his declining health. Bruce fainted rehearsing for the mirror room sequence while they were making the movie. And of course, we know that Bruce fainted again in the studio while doing post-production work on the film and that was a few weeks before he passed at Betty Ting’s apartment.
Now I got curious and I did some quick research, and I saw that cocaine use could cause a cerebral edema, exhaustion, and other symptoms associated with a heat stroke. And if what I said went over your head, what I’m saying is that the causes of Bruce’s death can also be caused by cocaine abuse. And I’m not saying that Bruce’s cocaine use led to his death, I’m just saying that there’s a possibility that it may have contributed to it.
Now the big question that we really need to be asking is, well, why Linda hid this? These letters weren’t just between Bruce and Bob Baker, Linda wrote some of them too. Some of the letters describe Linda having a scale to weigh the coke shipments, and I believe that the last piece of correspondence in this collection was written by Linda a few months before Bruce passed.
So why would Linda hide all of this? Well, look y’all, there’s an even more interesting story as to why Linda would have hid Bruce’s drug use. It’s actually a really big story that I wanted to include in this video, but it would have made this video about three times as long as it already is. So, look y’all, I’m sorry but it’s going to have to be a completely separate video. So you’ll want to check back for my video on why Linda had to hide Bruce’s drug use. I’m telling y’all it’s a really interesting story. So stay tuned.
But hey, while you wait on that video, you should also check out this video on why Bruce Lee was in a gang when he was a little kid growing up in Hong Kong, and then you’ll also want to check out the follow-up to that video about how Bruce met William Cheung and then started studying Wing Chun under Ip Man. But hey, y’all keep training. Remember to breathe, and I’ll see you in the next video.
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