Bruce Lee’s Cause of Death: How Did Kung Fu Star Die?

Bruce Lee Cause of Death

Getty A wax figure of Bruce Lee is seen at the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, Australia.

Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973 at just 32 years of age but the actor’s cause of death continues to be debated. Lee had a brain edema that was potentially a reaction to a prescription painkiller, per History.com. According to Web MD, the condition cited is described as a swelling of the brain.

Swelling can occur in specific locations or throughout the brain. It depends on the cause. Wherever it occurs, brain swelling increases pressure inside the skull. That’s known as intracranial pressure, or ICP. This pressure can prevent blood from flowing to your brain, which deprives it of the oxygen it needs to function.

Lee’s death came just one month before the release of arguably the star’s most widely acclaimed film Enter the Dragon. There are numerous conspiracy theories on the specific cause of Lee’s death. During a 2006 interview with The Guardian, James Filkins of the Cook County medical examiner’s office in Chicago noted that speculation about Lee’s death started just after the actor died.

“The death of Bruce Lee, coming at such a young age and in the peak of physical fitness, has given rise to much speculation,” Filkins explained. “Almost as soon as Lee died rumors began to surface.”


Theories on the Cause of Lee’s Death Range From Gangsters to Cannabis

From cannabis to gangsters, there is a wide range of theories on the specific cause of Lee’s death aside from the official label of a brain edema. History.com detailed some of the more surprising theories.

His sudden death at the young age of 32 led to rumors and speculation about the cause of his demise. One theory held that Lee had been murdered by Chinese gangsters while another rumor circulated that the actor had been the victim of a curse. The family-curse theory resurfaced when Lee’s 28-year-old son Brandon, who had followed in his father’s footsteps to become an actor, died in an accidental shooting on the set of the movie The Crow on March 31, 1993.

The South China Morning Post reported that traces of cannabis were found in Lee’s system. The publication went on to note that this theory as the cause of death has been “dismissed as speculation” adding that another idea is the actor had a reaction to the aspirin found in the painkiller Equagesic.

“Hong Kong doctors believed that the cerebral [edema] could have been brought on by ingesting cannabis – traces of hash were found in Lee’s stomach and intestine at the time of his death,” South China Morning Post explained. “But no causal link between cannabis and cerebral [edema] has ever been documented, and this theory has been dismissed as speculation. An American doctor said that, based on the available evidence, the cause of the cerebral [edema] was unknown and probably unknowable. A specialist from the UK put forward the theory that the cerebral [edema] was caused by a hypersensitivity to the aspirin in the drug Equagesic, a painkiller formed of meprobamate and aspirin.”


Lee Is Survived by His Wife Linda Lee & 2 Kids: Brandon & Shannon

Lee is survived by his wife Linda Lee and the couple’s two children, Brandon and Shannon. Brandon Lee tragically passed away in 1993 after an accident while filming the movie The Crow about 20 years after his father’s tragic death. Lee’s widow offered profound thoughts on all the speculation about the icon’s death.

“All these years later, people still wonder about the way he died,” Linda Lee noted, per IMDB. “I prefer to remember the way he lived.”


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