Bruce Lee was an international film and martial arts icon cut down in the prime of his life at the tender age of 32. The official cause of death was ruled cerebral edema, but the number of alternative theories created by the public is astounding.
Film studios know when they have a valuable star, and they didn’t want to lose out on making a movie with Bruce Lee in it even after his death. The project was cobbled together with archival and pre-filmed footage with a few visual tricks thrown in..
Like and subscribe for more on this martial arts icon. Watch our video to learn tragic details about Bruce Lee’s final movie, Game of Death.
Bruce’s Life and Career
Bruce Lee’s was the son of an international opera star. He was born in the United States, but the family eventually returned to their native country.
His earned his first movie role was at the age of 3, but he entered the Hong Kong film scene at the age of 6 while studying dancing and kung fu.
The family moved back to the United States when he was in his late teens. He lived with family friends in Seattle until he graduated from high school and earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Washington.
After that, he began to teach dance and martial arts at his own studio. He even invented a fighting style called Jeet Kune Do that focused on simplicity and practicality instead of formal technique.
Bruce maintained an interest in acting and moved to Los Angeles.. He earned a few film and TV roles there . The most famous one at the time was Kato in The Green Hornet in 1966. The show was so popular in Hong Kong that they called it “the Kato Show.”
Bruce was as well-known for his physical prowess as he was for his acting ability. He trained other stars such as Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also worked with and inspired fellow martial arts film star Jackie Chan when they worked together on Fists of Fury.
Bruce returned to Hong Kong in the 1970s and signed a 2-film contract. He was a star by that time and directed his first film, Return of the Dragon, in 1972. The follow-up, Enter the Dragon, was released in August of 1973. The goal was to make it more appealing to American audiences, and it was. It earned $20 million and went to the top spot internationally. Unfortunately, Bruce died before he could see his greatest success.
Bruce Lee was a man who never stopped thinking and planning for the next steps in his career. He had dreams of animated shows, merchandise, and other projects. He seemed like the fittest and most capable fighter in the world, but he couldn’t keep up that image forever.
Several reports claim that Bruce’s health began to change 2 months before his death. He experienced headaches and seizures and was taken to the hospital on May 10, 1973, after passing out. He was flown to the UCLA Medical Center where doctors determined he’d experienced a grand mal seizure that led to a swelling of the brain known as cerebral edema. He was released after he began to feel better.
Bruce was back at work by the day of his death on July 20, 1973. He worked on the film Game of Death, discussed business deals with his attorney, and more. He then went to visit his alleged lover Betty Ting at her apartment. He complained of a headache,, so she offered him a combination tranquilizer and pain pill called Equagesic. He’d taken the medication several times before with no negative reactions. After that, he went to her room to rest.
She checkedon him a few hours later and realized he was unresponsive. She called his producer Raymond Chow for help, and he attempted to get a hold of Dr. Langford, the man who’d saved Bruce from his previous edema. They were unable to contact him, so Betty brought in her doctor, Eugene Chu Poh-hwye. He attempted to revive Bruce for 10 minutes with no success.
The next step was to take Bruce to a hospital to avoid the scandal of him being discovered undressed in his mistress’s bed. Dr. Chu attempted to limit the number of witnesses. He called an ambulance to take him to Queen Elizabeth Hospital which was 24 minutes away instead of driving him to Baptist Hospital which was only half a mile away. They also refrained from telling anyone that Bruce was already dead.
Raymond called Bruce’s wife Linda to meet them at the hospital. She arrived 5 minutes before the ambulance did. Bruce was declared dead soon after he arrived.
Bruce’s official cause of death was cerebral edema caused by a reaction to a prescription painkiller. The news quickly reached the Chinese press and became the latest story.
Despite a thorough autopsy and consistent stories from Raymond, Betty, and Linda, alternative theories about Bruce Lee’s death began to emerge. It seemed almost impossible for such a fit, vibrant man to leave this earth at the young age of 32.
What actually led to his death? Could it have been the hash he was taking? Did he have a high sensitivity to the painkiller he’d taken at Betty’s house due to his low percentage of body fat? Was he murdered by an angry martial artist or a Chinese mafia group? Did he die from heatstroke on the hottest day of the month because he’d previously removed the sweat glands from his armpits? Was he simply the victim of a family curse?
There are plenty of questions surrounding Bruce Lee’s death that have yet to be answered, but the impact of his films on the world of cinema and martial arts is undeniable.
Like and subscribe to FactsVerse for more about the best action stars of all time. Keep watching to learn how the studio behind Bruce Lee’s final movie attempted to finish it and the legacy the actor left behind.
Game of Death
Game of Death follows a kung fu master who must fight his way through a tower full of fellow martial arts experts. It’s an important entry in the Bruce Lee film canon even though he was only able to film approximately 40 minutes of footage for it before his death.
The Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest had already made 3 successful movies with the star, including Way of the Dragon. They hired him to write, star in, and direct it as they had done before.
Filming began in 1972 in Hong Kong, but Bruce took a break in the middle of production to work on his first and only Hollywood film Enter the Dragon with Warner Bros. He eventually returned to Hong Kong and kept working on Game of Death until his death.
Golden Harvest abandoned the film for a few years but then decided to release it. They hired Robert Clouse, the director of Enter the Dragon. They also found Bruce Lee look-alikes to work as actors, including kung fu star Yuen Biao.
Dan Inosanto was the only cast member who appeared in the original 1972 footage and the final film in 1978. James Tien, Han Jae Ji, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar only appeared in archival footage.
Every actor who did play one of Bruce’s look-alikes in the film had to be disguised with lighting changes, sunglasses, fake beards, and other tricks. Superimposed images of Bruce’s face and a cardboard cutout were used to further hide the physical differences. The filmmakers even wrote an explanation into the story, saying that the hero had to get plastic surgery to avoid being detected.
Game of Death only used 11 minutes of the 40 minutes of footage that Bruce filmed. It filled in the rest of its time with scenes from his previous movies, including The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Way of the Dragon.They even used footage from his funeral for a scene where the hero fakes his death.
Game of Death had 3 alternate endings. The US and international version cut to the credits after the villain Dr. Lands falls to his death. The Cantonese version shows hero Billy Lo getting arrested after Dr. Land dies, and the Mandarin version lets Billy escape on a boat with his girlfriend.
Game of Death was released in 1978. It wasn’t the best-received Bruce Lee movie, but fans agree that the fight scenes were exciting and well-choreographed. It’s also the film that gave us the iconic yellow jumpsuit that Quentin Tarantino used as inspiration for the Kill Bill series. A sequel, Game of Death II, was released in 1981.
Bruce Lee’s Legacy
Matthew Polly said in an interview with CNN that Bruce Lee was like the “patron saint of kung fu”, and director Justin Lin called the actor timeless.
Hong Kong filmmakers created an entirely new genre called “Bruceploitation” after his death. They hired actors who vaguely resembled him, gave them knockoff names, and put them in low-brow movies such as I Love You, Bruce Lee, The Clones of Bruce Lee, Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger, and The Dragon Lives Again.
Bruce’s death impacted his family most of all. His wife Linda Lee Cadwell published a book about his life. Their daughter Shannon co-founded the Bruce Lee Foundation and runs Bruce Lee Enterprises. She also created a 50-episode TV series, History Channel documentary, and Cinemax serious about her father.
Bruce Lee’s son Brandon was only 8 when his father died. He struggled as a child and did poorly in school. He eventually felt ready to follow in his father’s footsteps and earned roles in the 1986 film Legacy of Rage in Hong Kong and Showdown in Little Tokyo in 1991. His most famous film was The Crow, but he suffered a tragic death due to a prop gun mishap while filming it.
Bruce Lee developed his own style of martial arts and brought a unique, memorable flair to every film he starred in. He became an international superstar in America and Hong Kong but died before he could enjoy the highest heights of his success.
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