Eight Interesting—but Untrue—Theories About Bruce Lee’s Demise

Ask ten people "How did Bruce Lee die?". You'll likely get ten separate answers. Hell, maybe a hundred, counting variations.

Death by Misadventure: Eight Interesting—but Untrue—Theories About Bruce Lee’s Demise

Ask ten people "How did Bruce Lee die?" and you'll most likely get ten separate answers. Hell, maybe a hundred, if you count variations and sidebars.

Now, before we cop a Dim Mak from the internet's elite keyboard special forces, please re-read the article's title.

The internet is full of copy-and-paste "Top Five Theories About Bruce Lee's Death" fodder, and some are definitely worth a bit of plagiarism, but we managed to dig up (pardon the pun) some of the lesser-known rumours about why the revered martial arts star left us so early...and the facts to refute them.

Let's kick off—er, begin our list with the tamest explanations of Lee's untimely demise, and the reason why his death has been shrouded in mystery.


The Absence of Truth Creates a Vacuum...And Rumours Think Vacuums Suck

The earliest official reports on Bruce Lee's 20th of July 1973 death were vague and somewhat contradictory. He died in a Hong Kong hospital in the company of his friend and colleague, actress Betty Ting Pei, and producer Raymond Chow.

Shortly after his death, Lee's wife Linda announced to the press that she felt confident that Lee's death was natural and devoid of suspicion, while the well-respected Scotland Yard medical examiner who conducted Lee's autopsy listed "Death by Misadventure" on his official report.

Death by misadventure? That leaves a LOT open to interpretation. Natural? Well, one can see how natural causes could be reframed to fit some pretty wild theories.

While we didn't have social media in the early 1970s, we did have print and broadcast journalism. Given Bruce Lee's fame, news outlets were quick to "fill in the blanks" with haphazard theories and misinformation. Decades later Linda, with her and Lee's surviving child, Shannon are still lambasting respectable news sources for making a balls-up of the facts.

Gossip within the film and martial arts industry didn't help, either.

We've presented the basic facts about Bruce Lee's death to give you a little context, but we'll wait until the end to bring it all together for you.

Are you ready for the theories?


Shocked to Death

Bruce Lee was an early adopter of electric muscle stimulation or EMS. One theory is that he turned his EMS device to a level his heart couldn't handle, leading to cardiac arrest.

A variation of this theme is that he used his EMS equipment in sex play, and a sex worker he'd engaged got carried away and took things a bit far.

We have corroborated testimony that Lee wasn't with a sex worker when he collapsed, and as much as we tend to think of actors as selling themselves for money, his co-star has suffered as a result of these false theories and suppositions.


Straight-up Heart Attack

Many people believe that Lee simply died of a heart attack due to his well-documented rapid weight loss and extremely low body fat, recorded at less than one per cent at his autopsy. While this would be a reasonable explanation for Bruce Lee's death, it's not quite exciting enough to stand on its own...therefore, it's become an ingredient in what we'd like to call, "Rumour Stew": Add one heart failure, two sex workers, a cattle prod and some cocaine, and voila! Tabloid fodder!


An overdose of Nepali Hashish/Cocaine/Heroin/Chocolate Cupcakes

Bruce Lee was no stranger to cannabis: Weeks before he died, he collapsed in a post-production studio while recording voice-overs (called 'looping' in movie making geek speak) for his latest film. His doctor detected THC in Lee's blood and warned him against using the illegal substance.

While hashish is extremely potent and potentially fatal in very high doses, and while the medical examiner's inquest detected minute amounts of hashish in Lee's stomach, he did not die of eating "enormous amounts" of this concentrated cannabis product.

However, his low body fat would have made him more sensitive to TCH, and the small amounts of the Nepali strain—which he reportedly used to relieve back pain and stress—may have created complications with medications Lee was prescribed.

You've probably heard that Bruce Lee died of a cocaine overdose, or that he was a heroin junkie. In fact, we heard from a friend who has a friend in California whose ex-boyfriend's estranged father sold drugs to and partied with Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin and Bruce Lee...and sold Lee his final dose of heroin before he (the drug-dealing dad) got into a shootout with a cop...and ended up in San Quentin Prison, where he became a leader of a Neo-Nazi gang. No, really!

No, NOT really. There were no traces of cocaine or heroin in Lee's blood upon his death. And we made up the part about the cupcakes.


Assassinated By Chinese Kung-Fu Fundamentalists

This oft-repeated theory purports that Bruce Lee dishonoured the ancient martial arts tradition by bringing it to the western world...like Prometheus, who stole fire from Mt. Olympus and shared it with mere mortals. As a result, old-school kung-fu masters ordered Lee's death, as Zeus condemned Prometheus to an eternity of suffering.

Even if one misguided wanker did go rogue and kill Bruce Lee to avenge some perceived insult to ancient Chinese traditions, Lee's fame taught the world to respect martial arts, and he gained a lot of ground in fighting prejudice against Asians. In death, his status as a cultural icon only grew, as did the popularity of martial arts among western cultures.


The Italian Mafia Put a Contract Out on Bruce Lee's Head

Have you heard this one? The Italian Mafia, trying to muscle its way into the lucrative Kung-Fu film genre, wanted a ride on Bruce Lee's gravy train. When Lee refused to do business with the mobsters, they retaliated by having him killed.

Excuse me, has anybody seen my decapitated horse?


The Chinese Equivalent of the Illuminati Had Bruce Lee Killed

According to one so-called legend, a shadowy underground society of Chinese influencers decided it would be a fabulous idea (for no known reason) to persuade Betty Ting Pei to kill the very man who would help her career.

Was Bruce Lee about to reveal some long-guarded secret about Lau Tzu's genetic legacy? Did Lee spoil the balance of universal chi by wearing fancy Hollywood sunglasses and polyester suits?

As much as we love vague, exotic conspiracies, this one falls flat. But we do want to know...if there is a Chinese chapter of the Illuminati, do its members have their own handshake?


The Lee Family Curse

We can't get too far down the list without bringing up the Lee family curse. Some of you in Reader Land are already having fits because we didn't tackle this one first.

Everyone knows that Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, died on the set of The Crow back in March 1993. Wait. What? You don't know? Then you're the only person on Earth who doesn't know about this tragedy. We'll wait for you to catch up.

Ha! No, we won't! Brandon's death set off a whole new round of conspiracies, and many of those originally connected to Bruce's death gained new life with Brandon as the leading man. (The Chinese and Italian Mafia stories, in particular). It's like those people who see a weird shadow behind a tree, and because they want it to be a yowie, and they believe in yowies, then that's what they see: YOWIES.

Neither Bruce nor Brandon was a large, hair-covered, stinky cryptid because Yowies don't really exist; therefore, there's no way the Chinese Illuminati or Italian Cosa Nostra had anything to do with their deaths. It's all about deductive reasoning, boys and girls.

And since yowies don't exist, neither do evil demon spirits, which leads us to...


The Lee Family Curse: The Prequel

Bruce Lee would have had an older brother, but the baby died at birth. Chinese tradition dictates that the evil spirit that takes a baby's life will follow the next child of the same gender...which is why his parents tried to "trick" the spirit by giving Bruce a girl's nickname.

Perhaps the evil spirit found Lee after all? The Chinese culture brought us many advances in technology, from printing to smelting iron to all sorts of good stuff in between (NOODLES!) But Chinese folklore also tells us that eating rhino horns will enhance our sex lives. We're just going to set that dose of perspective right there in front of you for a while.


The Stone Cold Truth

Untimely celebrity deaths generate all sorts of speculation, and Bruce Lee's has more mythology about it than anyone short of Elvis. 2018 is the 45th anniversary of Bruce Lee's death, and to this day, people still believe—without question—that supernatural forces, covert New Order operatives, gangsters, or the pressures of fame killed Kung Fu's most exalted icon.

The reality is that the primary cause of Bruce Lee's death was a brain aneurysm. Some of the medications he was on for his headaches, back pain and anxiety may have interacted poorly with the small amounts of hashish he used, or with one another. "Death by Misadventure" has a fairly broad interpretation under the law, but generally refers to an accidental death free of malice, in which one or more parties were negligent in taking reasonable precautions.

As Lee had ignored his doctor's advice to abstain from cannabis, this could have been grounds for the coroner's report. Medications prescribed by a Hong Kong physician might have contradicted with those prescribed by his Los Angeles doctor.

Aside from what he taught us about martial arts, Lee's death is a reminder for us to cross-reference our prescriptions among our different medical specialists, and to fess up when we're adding recreational or herbal drugs to the mix.

Regardless of how Bruce Lee died, he lives on in our cultural lexicon, and new fans are born every day.

Keep reading. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.


Anthony Ierardi


Adrian Bortignon


Anthony Ierardi


Anthony Ierardi


Anthony Ierardi


Anthony Ierardi