It has been nearly 50 years since Bruce Lee’s death. The actor and martial arts icon suddenly died on July 20, 1973 in Hong Kong, with officials ruling at the time that the cause was cerebral oedema — brain swelling, amid much speculation. However, a new research paper proposes that Lee’s death was caused by his “kidney’s inability to excrete excess water.”
The study, conducted by a group of kidney specialists in Spain, was published in the December 2022 edition of the Clinical Kidney Journal.
The authors assert that Lee, who was 32 years old at his death, possessed “multiple risk factors for hyponatraemia,” meaning an abnormally low sodium concentration in one’s blood, citing 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 a 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 hyponatraemia, cerebral oedema and death within hours if excess water intake is not matched by water excretion in urine,” the paper concludes. “Given that hyponatraemia 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.”
The abrupt nature of Lee’s death has been a matter of fervid speculation for decades, with some fans over the years even hypothesizing that the star was assassinated. A 2018 book, “Bruce Lee: A Life,” hypothesized that he died of heat exhaustion, but the current study did not find that temperatures were abnormally high that day. 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.