It’s been more than 50 years since Bruce Lee died. The actor, and arguably the biggest martial arts icon ever, suddenly died on July 20, 1973, in Hong Kong.
His sudden death wasn’t a mystery as the officials ruled that the cause was cerebral edema — brain swelling, amid much speculation.
Now, a new research paper proposes that Lee’s death was caused by his “kidney’s inability to excrete excess water.”
The excessive intake of water beyond the level that his body could actually get rid of, lead to brain swelling and eventually killed him.
The new study, conducted by a group of kidney specialists in Spain, was published in an edition of the Clinical Kidney Journal.
“We propose that the kidney’s inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee,” researchers write in the issue of Clinical Kidney Journal. “Ironically, Lee made famous the quote ‘Be water, my friend’ — but excess water appears to have ultimately killed him.”
At the time, doctors speculated that the real cause of brain swelling was a painkiller, but almost 50 years after the “Enter the Dragon” icon’s death, research shows he likely died of hyponatremia — a low concentration of sodium in the blood.
Taking into account the actor’s “chronic fluid intake,” use of marijuana (which increases thirst), and documented factors that may have interfered with his kidney’s function, such as prescription drugs, alcohol intake, and a history of injuries to the organ.
Although he had taken medication used for pain and anxiety (meprobamate and aspirin)
“We hypothesize that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction: the inability to excrete enough water to maintain water homeostasis.
This may lead to hyponatremia, cerebral edema, and death within hours if excess water intake is not matched by water excretion in urine,” the paper concludes. “Given that hyponatremia is frequent, as is found in up to 40% of hospitalized persons and may cause death due to excessive water ingestion even in young healthy persons, there is a need for a wider dissemination of the concept that excessive water intake can kill.”
Study finding far from what was speculated to be the reason for Lee’s death
The sudden nature of Lee’s death has been a matter of various speculation and even conspiracy theories for decades. Lee was renowned for his physical fitness and vigor, achieved by using a dedicated fitness regimen to become as strong as possible.
Some fans over the years even hypothesized that the star was assassinated. A 2018 book, “Bruce Lee: A Life,” speculated that he died of heat exhaustion.
The researchers’ findings are far from what people once speculated about his death, including rumors that he was assassinated by gangsters, poisoned by a jealous lover, the victim of a curse, and died from heatstroke.
The study hypothesized that although he had not consumed a huge amount of water, his kidneys were potentially not able to handle even normal amounts of fluid. In addition, he had reportedly been existing on a near-liquid diet of mostly juices.
Lee’s wife, Linda, once mentioned his fluid-based diet of “carrot and apple juice.” Matthew Polly, author of the 2018 book “Bruce Lee: A Life,” repeatedly referred to Lee’s water intake during the day — including the lead-up to his becoming ill.
“I think we had some water… that probably made him a little tired and thirsty. After a few sips, he seemed to be a little dizzy… Immediately after feeling faint, Bruce complained of a headache,” Polly wrote in the book.
The researchers took the fact that such a commonplace activity as water intake was consistently noticed as evidence that it was a noticeably higher intake than others on the day Lee died.