When Bruce Lee died suddenly on July 20th 1973, speculation abounded as to the cause. Rumours ranged from Lee being killed by Hong Kong triads (Chinese Mafia) because he refused to pay them protection money – something that was common for Chinese movie stars to do at that time. Bruce being killed by an angry martial artist using the dim mak death touch because Bruce refused to stop teaching his art to westerners. Bruce was defeated in a challenge match and was killed or he was so ashamed of his defeat that he went into hiding. Some people claimed Lee was cursed from birth and that a demon had taken his life away. Some people even think Bruce died from having too much sex or that he had died while making love to actress Betty Ting Pei.
Many Chinese believed Lee was the victim of too much Gum Ilk or over training his body. It is true that he was training very hard prior to his death but could this have killed him? Other people believed Bruce died from a drug overdose. Tom Bleeker in his book, ‘Unsettled Matters’ claims Bruce was addicted to pain-killers and cortisone injections that he started taking for his back injury in 1970. And then there are the people who believe Bruce is not dead at all and staged his own death because the pressure of fame was just too much for him.
The official cause of Bruce Lee’s death was that he died after falling into a coma. The coroner’s report was inconclusive, and medical authorities came up with five reasons for Lee’s untimely death. However, they all agreed that it was caused by a cerebral oedema (a swelling of the brain caused by a congestion of fluid). But what caused the oedema became a matter of speculation. For the most part, the course of events on that fateful July day in 1973 can be pieced together. According to Lee’s wife, Linda, Bruce met film producer Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. at home to discuss the making of Game of Death. They worked until 4 p.m., and then drove together to the home of Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress who was to also have a leading role in the film. The three went over the script at Ting Pei’s home. Soon after Raymond Chow left to attend a dinner meeting with actor George Lazenby who was also to star in the film. Bruce and Betty were supposed to meet Raymond and George at the restaurant for dinner but failed to show up.
Meanwhile back at Ting Pei’s apartment, Bruce complained of a headache and Betty gave him a tablet of Equagesic, a mild perscription sedative which contains meprobomate and apirin. Apart from taking that tablet Bruce consumed nothing but a couple of soft drinks. At around 7:30 p.m., Bruce lay down for a rest. Raymond rang Betty to ask why they hadn’t shown up at the restaurant. Betty told Raymond that Bruce was still asleep and that she couldn’t wake him. Chow came to the apartment and could not wake Lee either. A doctor was summoned, and he spent 10 minutes attempting to revive Bruce before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. By the time he reached the hospital, Lee was dead.
Dr. R.R. Lycette of Queen Elizabeth Hospital viewed Lee’s death as a hypersensitivity to one or more of the compounds found in the headache tablet he consumed that afternoon. Although his skull showed no injury, his brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams. None of the blood vessels were blocked or broken, so the possibility of a haemorrhage was ruled out. All of Lee’s internal organs were meticulously examined, and the only foreign substance to be found was the equagesic. The ensuing autopsy found traces of cannabis in Lee’s stomach, but the significance of this discovery is debatable. Some believe the cannabis caused a chemical reaction that led to the cerebral oedema, but the coroner’s inquiry refutes this theory. In fact, one doctor was quoted as saying that the cannabis being in Lee’s stomach was “no more significant than if Bruce had drunk a cup of tea that day.” R.D. Teare, a professor of forensic medicine at the University of London who had overseen more than 90,000 autopsies, was called in and declared that it was basically impossible for the cannabis to be a factor in Lee’s death. In Teare’s opinion the oedema was caused by hypersensitivity to either meprobamate or aspirin, or a combination of both.His view was accepted by authorities, and the verdict ‘Death by Misadventure’ was stamped on Lee’s death certificate.
There are many inconsistencies within the events that occurred on July 20th 1973. When Raymond was interviewed soon after Bruce Lee’s death, he apparently told the complete story. However what he failed to mention was that Bruce died at the home of Betty Ting Pei.
In a future column I will examine these inconsistencies and allow you to draw your own conclusion on what really happened that day. Points such as why did it take so long for the doctor to be called when Bruce could not be woken up? Why did Betty ask Raymond to come to the apartment before a doctor? Why did the doctors say that Bruce was hypersensitive to either meprobomate or aspirin when he had taken both of these drugs before?