The legendary actor … Bruce Lee

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One of the greatest legends of.. Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee died a month before the release of Enter the Dragon (1973), the movie which turned him into an international icon. His fame was almost entirely posthumous. Unlike James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, he lacked a well-defined celebrity persona. “I knew so little about him and wanted to know so much,” wrote a young woman from New Jersey to Black Belt magazine in 1973. “Suddenly, he is dead, and I just can’t accept it. It’s as if I knew him, and now I never will.” To satisfy fans ravenous for details about his life, dozens of special edition magazines and quickie biographies were cranked out, filled with fictionalized accounts of his heroic deeds. Many of these tall tales were cemented in the public’s consciousness by the Hollywood biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993).

Bruce is a kung fu instructor in America

Bruce Lee was the first kung fu instructor in America to accept students regardless of race or ethnicity, but that’s not why the fight happened. He had recently given a kung fu demonstration in Chinatown’s Sun Sing Theatre where he had insulted its traditional kung fu masters, calling them “old tigers with no teeth who teach nonsense.” When the crowd, filled with students of these traditional masters, became upset, Bruce said, “I would like to let everybody know that any time my Chinatown brothers want to research my kung fu, they are welcome to find me at my school in Oakland.” The audience gasped at what they perceived as an open challenge to all of Chinatown. After Lee’s performance, David Chin, a young Chinatown kung fu student, recruited Wong Jack Man, a waiter at a local restaurant and aspiring kung fu teacher, to take up Bruce’s challenge by convincing him he could make a name for himself by defeating Lee.

In a recent phone interview with a young reporter at the South China Morning Post, she said to me, “The consensus in Hong Kong is that he was killed.” I replied, “If only there was a consensus, it would have made my job easier.”

Bruce died at the age of 32 in the apartment of Betty Ting Pei, a sultry Taiwanese actress. To avoid a scandal, Raymond Chow, who was Bruce’s business partner, told the press that Bruce died at home with his wife, Linda. When a newspaper reporter uncovered the deception three days later, it unleashed a thousand conspiracy theories. Bruce was killed by Betty. No, it was Raymond. The more inventive blamed the Chinese Triads or Japanese ninjas. Maybe it was an ancient curse. The Hong Kong tabloids were particular fond of the sex and drug-filled orgy explanation. The public grew so upset there were protests and bomb threats, forcing the British colonial government to call for a full investigation. At the Coroner’s Inquest into his death, a British forensic expert posited that Bruce had died from an allergic reaction to an aspirin he had taken just prior to his death.

HOW BRUS DIED, THERE ARE MANY STORIES

In truth, Bruce died from a cerebral edema (swelling of the brain). No one knows for certain what caused it, although I’m fairly sure it wasn’t ninjas. The aspirin allergy theory is the one cited in most respectable newspaper accounts, despite its obvious flaw: Bruce was a hardcore martial artist who took aspirin for pain most of his adult life without any side effects. In my book, I post an alternate explanation — heat stroke. A few months prior to his death, Bruce Lee had the sweat glands in his armpits surgically removed, because he didn’t like how his dank pits looked on screen. The day he died, July 20, 1973, was the hottest of the month in tropical Hong Kong. According to Raymond Chow, Bruce was vigorously performing scene after kung fu scene from his next movie in Betty’s small apartment when he began to feel dizzy. He complained of a headache, went to lie down, and never got back up again.

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