The Death of Bruce Lee
On the afternoon of 10th May 1973, Bruce Lee's body began to show signs of breakdown. He was dubbing some sound to the final take of Enter the Dragon at the Golden Harvest studios. The room was small, hot and without air conditioning. Bruce Lee, already in a state of exhaustion, made a visit to the bathroom and shortly after returning, he collapsed in a fit of vomiting and convulsions.
Bruce Lee was rushed to hospital and his wife, Linda, was immediately summoned to his bedside. A leading neurosurgeon, Dr Peter Woo, declared that he believed something was wrong with Bruce Lee's brain, but he wasn't sure what. Fearing that Bruce was near death, the doctor administered the drug Manitol to reduce any swelling in Bruce Lee's brain and preparations were made for surgery if this did not work. It did. Lee began to regain consciousness almost immediately. He could see and make signs of recognition, but he could not talk and it took several days for him to regain his speech.
A week later Bruce Lee was flown to Los Angeles for a complete brain and body examination. No abnormalities were found and it was suggested that Bruce Lee's collapse on May 10th was brought on by cerebral edema- an excess of fluid surrounding the brain. Although the cause of this incident could not be discerned, Bruce Lee was prescribed Dilantin- a drug which calms brain activity. The collapse left Bruce Lee shaken, but it did nothing to diminish his work rate. Indeed, he began to work even harder. Some observers have stated that it seemed as though somehow, Bruce Lee knew he was having a race against time.
The premier of Enter the Dragon was set for 10th August 1973 in Hong Kong. Bruce Lee spent the intervening time working on another film, The Game of Death. He also made plans to move back to America with his family. One day, Bruce Lee suddenly turned to Linda and said, "I'm not sure how long I can keep this up".
On 20th July 1973 Bruce Lee was at his Kowloon house discussing the script of The Game of Death with Raymond Chow. Afterwards, they drove over to the flat of Taiwanese actress, Betty Ting-Pei, who was to have a major female role in the film. Raymond Chow went home to dress for a dinner he was having that night with Bruce Lee and 007 actor George Lazenby. Chow had hoped that they could persuade Lazenby to co-star alongside Bruce in The Game of Death. Bruce Lee, meanwhile, still at Ting-Pei's flat had began to develop a headache. Ting Pei gave Bruce a tablet of Equagesic- a strong asprin based tablet prescribed to her by her doctor. At around 7:30 Bruce Lee went and lay down in a bedroom.
At 9 o'clock Raymond Chow telephoned the flat to find out why Bruce Lee had not turned up at the Restaurant. Betty Tai-Ping said she could not wake Bruce Lee. Raymond rushed to Betty's flat and found Bruce Lee in an unrousably deep sleep. A doctor was called, arrived almost immediately and spent ten minutes trying to revive Bruce Lee. By 10 o'clock an ambulance had arrived and Bruce Lee was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Raymond Chow telephoned Linda and told her to go there straight away. When Bruce Lee arrived at the hospital, doctors rushed him into intensive care and began massaging his heart. This was quickly followed by an injection of stimulatory drugs directly into the heart as well as electric shocks. It was no use. Bruce Lee was already dead. He was just thirty-two years old.
There were two funeral ceremonies. The first was in Hong Kong, where there was a traditional Buddhist service. Outside the Kowloon funeral parlour a croud of 25,000 fans wept. The second ceremony was a more private affair, held in Seatle where Bruce and Linda had met and where Bruce Lee had perhaps been at his happiest.
Bruce Lee's body was buried in the city's Lake View Cemetery. He was laid to rest wearing the traditional Chinese outfit he had worn in Enter the Dragon. The final tribute was spoken by James Coburn, "Farewell brother. It has been an honour to share this space in time with you. As a friend and as a teacher, you have brought my physical, spiritual and psychological selves together. Thank you." Bruce Lee's tombstone was simply inscribed, "Bruce Lee. Nov. 27, 1940 - July 20, 1973. Founder of Jeet Kune Do."
Almost inevitably, the untimely death of Bruce Lee was followed by wild speculation and outrageous rumours. Some claimed that the Triads had murdered Bruce Lee. Others claimed that Bruce Lee had been killed by jealous film rivals. Some claimed that Bruce Lee had been killed in a fight. There were even rumours of a drugs overdose! After a lengthy coroner's inquest in Hong Kong. A panel of medical experts eventually concluded that Bruce Lee had died from a hypersensitive reaction to a compound in the drug Equagesic. This hypersensitivity led to a swelling of the brain and resulted in Bruce Lee entering a deep sleep from which he never awoke. The coroner declared himself satisfied with the finding, and so did Linda Lee.
A few days after Bruce Lee's body had been laid to rest Enter the Dragon had its premiere in Hollywood. The film was an instant hit in the USA and soon took the rest of the world by storm. The worldwide theatrical gross for Enter the Dragon currently stands at over two hundred million dollars! Considering that the cost of making the film was relatively small, this makes Enter the Dragon one of the most profitable films of all time and certainly the most successful martial arts film of all time. Perhaps more importantly however, it helped to make Bruce Lee a legendary, semi-mythical hero who is admired and respected by many millions of people across the world.
Jon E. Lewis, 1996. "They Died Too Young". Bristol, Parragon.
John R Little, Linda Lee, 1996. "The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee". Chicago, Contemporary Books.
Bruce Thomas, 1994. Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit a Biography, California, Frog, Ltd.
Special thanks also go out to the fans and friends of Bruce who have kindly offered their own contributions.