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New study suggests that water killed martial arts icon Bruce Lee

What we previously knew about Lee's death may be completely wrong.

New study suggests that water killed martial arts icon Bruce Lee
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Bruce Lee’s death has long been presumed to have been a result of cerebral edema, but it turns out it may have been a very different thing that caused the icon’s tragic passing.

Nearly fifty years after his death, Lee’s untimely passing has reentered the debate as a group of kidney specialists in Spain have posited a new theory about what could have killed the Hong Kong movie star. Published in the Dec. 2022 volume of the Clinical Kidney Journal, their belief is a vastly different ailment caused his death.

Instead of brain swelling, it was instead due to his kidney’s “inability to excrete excess water” from hyponatraemia. The report points to several of Lee’s lifestyle choices such as smoking marijuana, and prescription drugs, history of organ injuries, and alcohol intake. The uptick of this means he could’ve died from “excessive water ingestion” otherwise known as drowning.

“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. 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.”

Other theories on Lee’s death have included heat stroke, over-exertion, cannabis consumption, assassination, or the official legal declaration of “death by misadventure”. Essentially meaning the death was the result of an accident in an event they knowingly took part in, despite the risk.

There’s another more occult theory on his death which believes there was a curse on Lee and his family, as his son Brandon Lee died during the filming of The Crow due to a prop gun mishap. The curse angle seems far-fetched but adds a bit of intrigue to a tragic death.

Brandon and Bruce Lee are buried next to each other in a Seattle cemetery.

Jamie Dunkin
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Jamie Dunkin

Writer for We Got This Covered, and other sites in the GAMURS Group. Football fan, LEGO enthusiast, and beer enjoyer. @jamie_dunkin on Twitter