Bruce Lee: The Most Dangerous Man in the World

About five on the afternoon of May 10, 1973, Dr. Don Langford, an American missionary surgeon stationed in Hong Kong, was preparing to leave Baptist Hospital in the suburb of Kowloon Tong.

Suddenly, the switchboard operator shouted at him to stand by for an emergency case. Bruce Lee was being rushed to the hospital,

desperately ill.

Dr.  Langford knew Bruce Lee very well. For the past year and a half, the Tennessee-bom, Tulane-educated doctor and minister had been the kung-Fu star’s family physician, the only doctor in whom Lee reposed any confidence.  On more than one occasion, Dr. Langford had received Lee fresh off a film location where he had suffered a damaging kick to the groin or a nasty bum or a slashed hand; for no matter where or how Lee was injured. He insisted always that he be carried to Dr. Langford.  The doctor, for his part had come to view these visitations with muted apprehension and even a bit of resentment. for the famous star was a most difficult patient.  Indeed, after observing Lee carefully for a considerable period of time. Dr. Langford had come to the conclusion that the actor was in the strict medical sense of the word a ”hysteric.”

For example, instead of coming into the office like any other man and explaining what ailed him, Lee would not permit the doctor to perform his work until he had witnessed a complete enactment of the entire incident that led up to the injury. Instead of getting on with his job.  Langford would have to stand by, with the other members of Lee’s adoring entourage.  while blows whizzed by his nose and high kicks

missed by inches his precious instrument

cabinet. Then, as the climax to the performance, Lee would gather all his fury into a final paroxysm of rage and swear a blood curdling oath to kill the man responsible for this outrageous humiliation.  For Bruce Lee’s  image was based on the  idea  that while he killed scores of men with his bare hands,  nobody  every laid  a finger  on him until the final  death duel with the supervillain.  An injury for Bruce Lee, therefore, was not just a matter of physical pain or nervous anxiety.  It was a loss of face.  God help the man who made Bruce Lee lose face!

This afternoon proved very different

from those previous occasions. Instead of the great fighter bursting into the emergency room like a pirate boarding a junk. followed by his crew of trusty henchmen, Lee was carried into the clinic in a horizontal position by four men who looked like they were bearing a corpse. All they could tell the doctor was that Lee had been working at Golden Harvest Studios when, for no apparent reason, he had collapsed and lost consciousness. Though Lee had been scooped up and rushed to the hospital, only minutes away from the studio. it was obvious to the doctor that the actor was nearly dead.

Lee was in a deep coma and barely

breathing. His eyes were rolling around in circles. His blood pressure was low and

sinking further.  He had no reflexes.  His body was drenched with perspiration from a fever of 1 05 °.

The initial picture was that of a stroke

victim or a man who has suffered some traumatic injury. Dr. Langford. a veteran of many years in the Orient.  suspected he was seeing a condition not uncommon among young Chinese: a leak, or even a hemorrhage, produced in the brain by a congenital defect in the wall between a vein and an artery.  The only remedy was to open the skull and repair the damage.

As the doctor looked about.  however. he realized that he would not be able to operate. because his staff was starting to panic. This was not the first time that these otherwise competent nurses and orderlies had faltered and even fled.  Every time a famous person was brought in at the point of death, the Chinese, who dread being held responsible in such a case, would seek to escape.  Recognizing this danger, Dr.  Langford summoned to his aid two other physicians upon whom he could rely: Dr. Cecilia Wong.   an anesthesiologist, and Dr. Peter Vevo.  Hong Kong’s leading brain specialist.

Even as Langford took these precautions.  he saw his patient slipping away. Before any surgical procedure could be attempted. the patient had to be stabilized. Ordering the anesthesia machine brought down from the floor above (to act as a respirator), the doctor inserted a breathing tube into Bruce Lee’s throat and an IV needle into his arm, to counter with glucose the effects of shock.  At that moment, Dr. Vu appeared and examined the patient.

What he saw suggested not that there was bleeding inside the skull but rather that the brain had swollen and was pressing dangerously against the cranium. The treatment for this condition was a dehydrating agent called Manito! (the same substance that is used to cut cocaine). Manito!,  which is  actually synthetic  urea, produces a strong flow of urine.  With the patient unconscious and unable to urinate, there is the danger that his bladder will rupture.  So Langford inserted a catheter into Lee’s penis. It was during this painful procedure  that the moribund actor gave his first sign of life. Still unconscious. Bruce Lee reached down and seized the doctor’s hand.

No sooner did Lee exhibit one sign of life than he displayed others. He began to thrash about on the operating table.   In these uncontrolled movements, Dr. Lang  ford recognized a fresh threat. He recalled the instance,  not long since, when a Japanese stuntman had been brought in suffering  from a concussion. When   Langford shone his flashlight into  the man’s  eyes, the powerful Japanese had come off the table like an enraged animal and attacked the  doctor with hands  and feet. The muscular missionary had to fight for his life. Eventually, he subdued the patient. But Langford   knew he wouldn’t   stand a chance with  a demented Bruce Lee. Immediately, he began to tie down the twitching fighter’s arms and legs with adhesive tape.

Over the next couple of hours, Bruce Lee gradually   regained   consciousness. As Dr.  Langford recalls:  “First, he opened his eyes. Then, he ranges sore sign but could not speak.  He recognized his wife and made signs of recognition.  Later, he was able to speak but it was slurred.”  A few hours after the onset of the attack, Lee was reproved to St.  Theresa Hospital, which had an open bed. At this point, Dr. Wu took over as the admitting physician, and he recalls that Lee had so far recovered that he was able to recollect his collapse and make jokes about it.  By the next day, the man who had been so near to dying appeared perfectly normal.

This astonishing recovery coupled with certain telltale symptoms persuaded Dr. Wu and Dr.  Langford that Lee had been taking a powerful drug. The day following his collapse. Lee was interrogated by Dr. Wu in the presence of Lee’s wife. Linda. The suspicion that Lee was using a drug was instantly confirmed.

As Lee reported the incident, it all began with his feeling depressed that day at the studio. He had formed the Habit of altering his moods by eating hashish. which he obtained from Katmandu. That afternoon, he had gone into the studio men’s room and taken some of the drug. Instead of experiencing an improvement. he began to feel unwell.  Finally, he collapsed against the door of the toilet knocking it open and then sprawling across the studio floor, where he made one last effort to conceal his condition   by telling the men who rushed to his rescue that he had dropped his glasses and was searching for them on the floor.   ·

Then Lee actually presented Dr.  ‘Nu with a sample of the hashish he had been eating. Hashish in Hong Kong is even more exotic than opium in New York. Dr. Wu was highly alarmed by his discovery of Lee’s drug-taking.  He warmed Lee sternly that by continuing to take the drug he would scramble his brains’ or even kill himself.  After all, he had come within an inch of dying just the day before. If the doctor had been surprised at the discovery that hashish was at the root of Lee’s complaint, he was no less astonished by the attitude that Lee displayed upon receiving the sensible advice to desist.

Lee not only rejected the doctor’s counsel but ridiculed the notion that hashish could harm a man. He explained that. He had been introduced to the drug by a famous Hollywood actor who took very good care of his health, Steve McQueen. If the drug produced harmful effects, Lee argued, his friend, McQueen, would have warmed Lee of the danger.  What’s more, Lee protested, he was living under unbearable pressures.

He had a big deal going at that moment with Carlo Ponti that would make Lee the highest-paid actor in the world.  He was working on a picture, Game of Death, which demanded that he do everything himself–write, direct. coordinate stunts, act.  He was virtually going out of his mind. The one thing that had helped him was hashish. It alone enabled him to relax.

Dr.  Wu was not easily persuaded. He pointed out that it made no difference what hashish did or did not do to other people. The drug was deadly for Bruce Lee. It was possible that he had developed a specific allergy or become hypersensitive.  Only further tests could tell what had really happened.  In the meantime, it was urgent that he stop. “Why can’t you stop?”  demanded the doctor.                      ·

Staring past his white-coated interrogator, Lee groped for the answer.  Then he uttered the line that should have been engraved on his tombstone. Speaking with unconscious    irony-who    could have known that just ten weeks later he would.

“It’s the only thing that makes the clock stop!”  Lee exclaimed. The clock that  Bruce Lee  was trying to stop with drugs was the clock that was always ticking inside his head. One of those young men who fear that they will die before they reap the harvest of their teeming brains, Lee sought always to cram every moment of his life with self-improving, self advancing activity.

An idealist.  a perfectionist, a control freak, he would lock on a goal with the tenacity and emotional intensity of the obsessive-compulsive personality and drive himself to the limit in the effort to   achieve the mythical ‘’most. ·· Even as he worked at achieving one goal, however, he would be distracted and tormented by the thought that other, equally important goals were· not receiving his at attention.  So, he adopted the expedient of performing many activities simultaneously, dividing up his consciousness into” separate tracks and shifting his attention from one endeavor to another.  like a man constantly twisting the dial of a television set.

So long as Lee was living in obscurity in Los Angeles. a married man with two children.  a coach for movie stars who were studying the martial arts, an occasional performer on TV or in films, he was able to manage his life   comfortably.

He was cheerful, self-contained, considerate of others, and so dedicated to his training ideals that he would never smoke or drink, much less experiment with drugs. Once he got into the big time, however, where with each successful picture the opportunities and demands increase at a geometric ratio, he was betrayed by his old habits of  mind. Struggling to do everything  himself  and do it all perfectly,  he suffered  a massive psychic overload. His personality changed perceptibly as his behavior grew increasingly disturbed. By the end of his life he was like a wildly wobbling wheel that is just about to fly off its axle. The story of Bruce Lee, therefore, is the story of how the ”deadliest man on the planet” finally fell victim to himself.

What was driving Bruce Lee?