Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

The Life and Death of Bruce Lee: Part Two

 

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

 

No matter how you sized him up. the danger signals were unmistakably. The most obvious signal was weight loss.  During his best years, Lee–who stood  between  five foot six  and five  foot seven and was very lightly  boned–built himself  up  through diet and exercise to a peak of  155   pounds.

Now   this   extra poundage began to melt away. Eventually, he went down to 120. When Danny lnosanto,  Lee’s  principal  disciple,  saw his master for the last  time,  he  was shocked by the change in his appearance.  “You’re too thin!” he warned. “How are you going to get your full power?”

”My full power?” hissed  Lee. “How about this?”

Bruce Lee and Danny Inosanto

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

Then he gave lnosanto a shoulder shot that sent the disciple flying  twelve feet across the room. All the same, Lee was concerned about his inexplicable weight loss. His solution was to adopt a particularly nauseating  diet:  congealed bull’s  blood mixed with  raw  hamburger steak.

Game of Death: Bruce Lee and Danny Inosanto

A more serious sign that Bruce Lee was in trouble was the startling fact that he had abandoned his exercise routine. A fanatic about physical  conditioning  and training. Lee had spent the better part of his life running, doing calisthenics, lifting weights, practicing martial-arts   exercises, and sparring with  his students.

Believing that running was the best exercise.  he did two to six miles of road work every day and pedaled ten to twenty miles every other day on a stationary bicycle.

To achieve the ultimate in muscular strength and coordination, he had filled  almost every room  of his house in  Hong Kong with  martial-arts gear and exercise  machines. most of the latter designed to his own specifications. Now,  though,  he spent most of his  time locked  up  in  his second-floor  study, talking  frantically  on his telephones, sketch  ing scenarios.  and holding business conferences.

Money occupied the center of Lee’s mind in  his last  days. After a lifetime  of barely breaking even, he was determined now   that   he  was  famous  enough  to make–and keep-a fortune.  His ideas of finance  were pretty crude. Basically,  he was concerned with hiding his wealth.

He put his $250,000 house in the name of his “butler,” Nu Ngan, so that in the event of a divorce his wife couldn’t claim a share in the property.  A more important consideration was how to hide his money from the IRS;  for Lee was intent  upon  returning  to Hollywood  now  that he was a superstar, but he dreaded the thought that the American government would take an enormous bite out of his eamings.

When he sought the advice· of Wemer Wolfen, one of the smartest tax men in  Los Angeles.  And was told firmly by this expert (who saw Lee as a “street person”)  that he would not participate in any illegal schemes. Lee left the lawyer’s  office  in  high  dudgeon .   .Just  before he died. however.

Lee sent the tax expert a handwritten note agreeing to follow his advice.  This patten of defying  reason and then reversing himself was highly characteristic of Lee. It  was the yin  and yang of his reckless and impulsive temperament.

Another reason that Bruce Lee spent so much time holed  up  inside  his walled villa (not a mansion,  by any means, but a narrow, two-story. Japanese-style house with its  back to a railroad track) was that he was suffering from paranoia.

During  his final months,  Lee fancied  himself,   like  a character in  one of his  films.  surrounded on every side by enemies. Just as striking as the similarity between life and art, however. was the   difference.

In his films. Bruce   Lee   walks fearlessly   into   death traps, cloaked in the invulnerability provided by his magic arts_  In real life,  he craved weapons, especially  weapons he could wear on his  person without being detected.

So he smuggled into Hong Kong, which has very strict laws  against any sort of weapon, a whole arsenal of concealed  weapons.  Among his deadly tools were a comb that spat out a blade like an ice  pick,  a tear-gas  pen. a sword cane with a twelve-inch blade, a walking stick with a .410 shotgun shell at one end and a tear-gas canister  at the other,  a pearl-handled .22 caliber magnum-load double-barreled  Derringer  (smuggled  in  side  a ten-gallon  can of.

Jack  La Lanne protein powder). and a slew  of serikens. the six-sided  throwing  stars that can be hurled  with  far greater  accuracy than  a knife  or else held between the knuckles like a razor for slashing

Lee was not content  simply to carry these weapons for self-defense_ On more than one occasion. he whipped them  out and  brandished them with terrifying effect. Typical is the story told by Nang Nguk Chung, personnel manager of Golden  Harvest Films and the editor-writer of a Bruce Lee fan magazine

After the release of Return of the Dragon, the only completed film that Lee wrote, directed,  and  stunt-coordinated,    Mr. Wong wrote a little notice in his fanagazine saying that Bruce Lee had “not matured yet as a director_

That was an understatement, to put it mildly. What Wang didn’t understand  when he voiced  his timid  little  criticism  was that Bruce Lee–who  had  always  been so open, friendly, and down-to-earth in his relations  with the editor  of the fan magazine-was  now a changed man no sooner did Lee read the notice than he summoned Wong to the office of the boss  of the  film   company,  Raymond Chow.

The moment Wang walked through the door,  he got an order from Lee to sit down. Then the famous star fixed the frail little editor with his most deadly basilisk stare. and clenching  his teeth in  precisely the manner he used in all his films to warn the villain that his time was near, Lee proceeded to teach the writer  his lesson.

”When you take a pen,” he enunciated with pedantic but terrifying  precision, “it’s exactly as if you took a knife or a gun. One slip and you’ve inflicted a deadly wound.”

Then, just to make the point a little clearer, Lee grabbed his belt buckle and extracted from it one of those concealed knives you see advertised  in  mercenary magazines like Soldier of Fortune. Laying the tip of the blade precisely on the carotid artery in the editor’s neck. Lee drove home his point.

‘”My knife is just like your pen. If you criticize.  you hurt!”

Wang frozen with fear, gasped out the excuse that he had meant no harm, that his criticism was intended to act as an incentive  for Lee to  improve. Raymond Chow, another-frail, bespectacled, professorial-looking man, chimed in with his assurances that Wong  had  meant well. Finally the enraged Bruce Lee could no longer contain his rage.

Turning to the office  door,· he gave it  one of his  famous kicks and sent it flying down the hall. Only then did he begin to simmer down and come to his senses. Characteristically, he wound up shaking hands and apologizing for his choleric  behavior.

Editor Wong was by no means the principal offender in the local press. More frequent targets of Lee’s rage were the newspapermen and especially the photographers.

Though the local  press worshiped  Bruce  Lee,  it was  naturally obsessed with  the sex life  of the man “”who restored masculinity to the Chinese screen,”  to quote Golden Harvest’s first Bruce Lee publicity release.  Lee,  for-  his part, was enjoying sexual abundance for the first time  in  his  life_

Brought up  in  an uptight  environment that hadn’t  allowed him sexual fulfillment as a youth, involved from the age of twenty-four in a tight marriage. an obscure little Chinaman in Hollywood that is always infatuated with the current style of beauty,

Bruce Lee was just now, at the age of thirty-two, having  his first taste of being irresistible to women–an experience that would tum  most men’s heads_ Unfortunately. he was not discreet in managing his liaisons.  Noris  Hong   Kong-congested. gossip-ridden.

A Chinese village of 5 million souls-the  kind of place where concealment is  easy. The upshot was that every time  Lee indulged  himself in a passing  affair with one of his co-stars or a model or a courtesan, a story accompanied by a picture of the pair would tum up in  the press.

Instead of resigning himself to this provocation. Lee would invariably  fly  into  a rage and go roaring  down to the office  of the paper with  murder in his heart. Charging  into the copy room. he would demand to know who had written the story or taken the photograph.

If he found his prey,  he would slap the man around or choke him by the throat and then smash his camera. When the poor wretch was scared out of his wits,

Lee would make a final  speech, warming in tones that could not be forgot, and promised that next beating ten-fold the next  time  this happened, he would come back and massacre the entire staff.

In  a town with  two or three papers, these tactics  of intimidation  might have worked. In  Hong  Kong, which at that time had 121  dailies. there was always a fresh team of newsmen ready to risk their necks to get a hot scoop on the “Dragon.”

The most serious aspect of Bruce Lee’s bizarre behavior was the threat it posed to his most vital relationships, especially his professional  relationships.  Everybody who worked with the explosive star recognized that dealing  with Lee was like  handling dynamite.

Every effort was made to avoid  tension  or quarrels.  Lee’s wishes were deferred to in everything; Lee was allowed  to call  all the shots.

Even so. there was no way to avoid accidents  in  the tricky  business of making movies, especially movies that focused on violent physical combat. One of the most revealing episodes from Lee’s final phase is the story of his deadly confrontation with Bob Wall during the making of Enter the Dragon.

In  one scene. Wall, playing  a villain, attacks Lee with two jagged-edged broken bottles. Lee knocks  the bottles  out of Wall’s hands with a spinning kick. then he raises his hand to counter the next attack. The first  time  the scene was tried.  Lee missed his kick, and when he spun around with  his  raised  fist.  he scored his hand against  the jagged glass.

The injury was not serious.  At most. it would sideline  Lee for two weeks. When Wall exclaimed. “Gee,  I’m  sorry,  Bruce!”  Lee snapped a curt “No problem”  and left for Dr.  Lang  ford, his personal physician.

The truth  was, however,  that this accidental injury  posed a grave  problem be  cause it caused Bruce Lee to lose face in front of the crew  and the extras. Bruce Lee, after all was regarded by the Chinese as a superman, a fighter  who dealt out deadly punishment but who rarely took a blow.  much less  one that drew  blood and put him out of action.

Soon Bob Wall began to hear stories that Bruce Lee was going to murder the man who had maimed him. Wall who had known Lee for years and recognized  his sensitivity. put his head together with Fred Weintraub,  the picture’s  producer,  and came up  with a solution.

One aftemoon. Wall drove out to Bruce Lee’s house and confronted him with the rumors that were going about.  Lee denied everything. putting  all the blame on the ”Chinese.” Wall persisted, explaining that he realized how important it was for Lee to maintain  his image.  Then he outlined  his plan for getting  the star off the hook.  Lee fell in  with  the suggestion  at once.

The first  day that shooting  resumed, Bruce Lee stood up in front of the assem  bled crew and made a short speech in Chinese. He explained that he had intend  ed to kill Bob Wall as a matter of honor, but because Wall was an old friend and was needed to complete the picture.

Lee had decided to assuage his pride by administering a terrible beating to the white devil. Wall, at this point,  opened his  gi to show that he was not wearing  any protective padding. Then, with  the cameras rolling, the men squared off to fight.

Wall had told Lee that no matter how hard he kicked, Wall could take the blow. Now, Lee went to work with a vengeance. His first kick landed with such force that it hurled Wall into an extra standing behind him, breaking the man’s arm. Eight times, Bruce Lee kicked  Bob Wall-who  never failed to utter loud groans and gasps–un til Lee’s  footprints  were all over Wall”s chest and abdomen. Finally,  the scene was wrapped.

That night  Lee took Wall to supper at Hugo’s,  Hong  Kong’s  finest  French  res  taurant.  As they sat at the table, Lee ex  claimed: ”Bob, that was the greatest thing anybody ever  did for me. Did I  hurt you?” Wall replied that he had been hurt worse in other fights.

Though all the American  karate men who worked with  Bruce  Lee respected him for his great abilities and remembered him fondly for the way he had been in  the good old days, they grew steadily more disenchanted with  his behavior in  Hong Kong.

Particularly  those who were seeking to make a career in  films  resented the way they were set up in  the Bruce Lee films to look like clumsy oafs who could be knocked around at will by a guy who was much smaller than they.

They recognized that when the films  were exhibited, the fans would not  view  them as dramas in which the  American Karate men  were playing assigned parts. The public would assume that the Americans were in fact inferior fighters,  big, klutzy dudes who just couldn’t  hold  their own against the Dragon.

This struck  a sore spot among the Americans  because  they  knew  that though Bruce  Lee had  worked out with them many times. he had never once engaged in  actual  competition.  His excuse was that toumament fighting  was unreal like  “swimming  on dry land.”  But  when Joe  Lewis (and  subsequently, Bill Wallace)  introduced  full-contact karate, this excuse  would  no longer hold  water. (Light-contact  karate was introduced in 1963: you were not supposed to strike the face, and blows to the body were supposed to be half-pulled.

Full-contact karate was introduced  by Joe Lewis at Long Beach on January  1 7, 1970.) The feeling among the American karate men was that Bruce Lee simply didn’t want to take the chances every competition fighter took of being hurt or defeated. His image. in other words, was more important to him than the actual test of combat.

The upshot of this feeling was a gradual estrangement between Bruce Lee and his old friends  in  the karate world.  Some  of the men who appeared in  films with  him swore that they would never repeat the ex  perience.

Others developed a rather wry and ironic attitude toward  Lee, making fun of his histrionics on the screen. his poses, grimaces,  and noises, none of which had any real connection with  the martial arts. They especially  ridiculed  the notion  that Lee could defeat champions who were much taller and heavier than he. or that he could take on a fighter like Muhammed Ali, each man using his own style, and walk off the winner,  an idea  cherished  by many Bruce Lee fans.

In  short, the karate men protested against the illusion that was the greatest  product of Bruce Lee’s  art,  the universal conviction that he was the deadliest man on the planet.

In the final period of his life,  Bruce Lee began to rely on hashish to lift from his op  pressed mind all the terrible burdens that were driving him mad. He had a young gofer who was encharged with the dangerous assignment of procuring  the drug, which was smuggled in  from Nepal. Like many other Oriental countries, Hong Kong has highly  punitive  laws  against illegal drugs. Possession  of even five  grams of “cannabis resin” is punishable by a fine of

$5  million  HK  and  life imprisonment.

Bruce Lee. an immoderate man by nature was not the kind to limit himself to just a couple puffs on a hash pipe. In fact, he never smoked hash, because, being a nonsmoker, he had an aversion to inhale in. It was his custom to eat the drug in the form of confections. Bob Wall recalls a vis it to Bruce Lee’s house about six months before Lee’s death during which Lee both explained and demonstrated his commit mint to the drug he called “the most won direful stuff in the world.”

Wall was sitting in Lee’s second-story study when Lee offered a plate of cookies to Wall, urging, “Try some of this!” “What is it?” asked Wall. “Hashish in brownies,” smiled Lee. “I thought you were anti-drugs,” replied Wall, genuinely surprised that a man who wouldn’t take a glass of wine would be consuming a dangerous drug.

At that point, Lee whipped out a copy of the September 1972- edition of Playboy, which contained a clutch of art class entitled “The Drug Explosion.” Actus ally, there was nothing in any of the pieces that would make a man want to tum on, but the chart prepared by the editorial staff characterized cannabis as providing “relaxation, breakdown of inhibitions … EU phobia, increased appetite”-all things that wore appealing to the anxious, irritant blew, and underweight Bruce Lee.

Most importent was the fact that no distinction was drawn between marijuana and hashish: both were both lumped together in different catagories beside the rubric “cannabis.”

This was a serious omission. Although grass and hash are prepared from the hen1µ plant, they are for all practical per poses no more the same than are wine and whiskey.  Especially when eaten by high-strung types like Bruce Lee hashish proved to be  a nightmare  drug.  lf  it doesn’t drive  you crazy,  it  may poison you.

Those little “temple balls,” “fingers,” and other goodies from Nepal may be contaminated by having been manufactured in one of the most primitive and un hygienic  environments  on earth.  If you don’t burn the  stuff,  you are asking  for trouble.

Naturally, Bruce Lee, who was not basically a drug adept, knew nothing of these dangers. Yet being a classic  know-it-all, he claimed to be an expert on the drug.

As the astonished Bob Wall looked at the two  page chart spread before his eyes and listened to Lee’s machine-gun rap, he leamed that hashish was vastly superior to marijuana,  because instead  of damaging your lungs by smoking it, you could eat it like  ordinary food.  The  most important thing,  Lee  stressed,  was the drug’s marvelous capacity for  producing  relaxation. “At last I’ve found something to relax me!”

Bruce as he put one of the brownies into his mouth.

In  the  next ten  minutes, Bruce  Lee ate three ‘or four hash brownies. Wall recalls that the brownies had been prepared according to  the celebrated  recipe of Alice B.  Toklas.

If that is the case, Bruce Lee was consuming an enormous amount of hashish. Perhaps he had found that it took a great deal to slow him down.  If this was his problem he  certainly  found the solution.  For,  as Wall recalls,  in  just  an hour Lee  was totally transformed  by  the drug.

Prior to eating  the hash,  Lee had  been talking a mile a minute and demonstrating a new  nunchaku  routine  that  made the sticks  fly  around his head  like  humming  birds’ wings. Then he took off his shirt and threw it on the floor, collapsing into a comfortable chair. Gradually his rate of speech slowed and  slowed  until  finally, Bruce Lee fell totally silent.

In  all the years he had known Lee, Wall-who is no slouch at talking himself-had  never seen his friend  shut up.  (Lee was  such a compulsive talker that  in  Hong  Kong he  damaged his car almost every week  because he insisted  bn looking  directly at the per  son to whom  he was talking  as he drove.) Now,  for the first  time ever,  Lee was mute-and  Wall was  doing all the talking.

Wall at first  accepted  Lee’s  judgment that eating  hashish once a week was an ideal way to give himself the relaxation he could never  otherwise  obtain.  But then Wall began to notice  that  Lee was  suffering  from  memory loss,  repeating  himself constantly as if he had  no recollection of what  he had  said the day or the hour just past. This  symptom coupled with the weight  loss  and the striking  pallor of his old friend  were all, Wall assumed, products of work and stress. (He doesn’t think this today,  however.)

Nor  is  it  likely that by the  end of his  life Bruce  Lee  was confining  himself to one hash binge a week. According to his own statement, he was taking the drug to cheer himself up at the studio and to make love. It’s  very difficult  to  resist  any drug that works. (It’s  unfortunate  that  Bruce  Lee was so averse to smoking, because a year on Thai weed would have been good therapy for him.

It would have done all the things promised by Playboy plus provided this compulsively funny man with hysterical laughs, as well as giving depth to his philosophic moods and exaltation to his budding mythological  fantasies.)

When Lee finally  collapsed and nearly died after eating some hashish at the studio, he was advised by his doctors to stop using the drug. Lee. always rebellious and stubborn  decided to take his case to  a higher  court.  Within one week of his  collapse, Lee was  living in a  bungalow behind the  Beverly  Hills  Hotel and under  going neurological  tests  designed to de  termine  whether he was suffering  from a brain lesion  or some  other complaint that had  not  been discovered  in  Hong  Kong.

The  neurologist was  working under a great handicap,  however,  because all the symptoms had vanished, and the only description  of the  attack was that provided by the  patient and his wife,  Linda,  both of whom made the  mistake of thinking  that

Lee had suffered a convulsion. In fact, Lee had  not had  a convulsion. He had exhibited lot of muscle twitching, a condition to which he was prone, especially when under stress. Otherwise,  his symptoms were those of a toxic brain condition  produced by drugs.

Inevitably, the neurologist found nothing organically wrong with  Bruce Lee; in fact, he told his patient that he had the “body of an eighteen-year-old.”  Lee, very frightened by what had happened, sought other opinions and was told by one doctor that it was ridiculous  to  blame  his  seizure  on hashish.  Infact,  the doctor confided,  he took the  stuff  himself-and  it  had  never caused him the slightest distress. With that reassuring opinion ringing in his ears, Lee boarded a plane that took himback to Hong Kong-and  the life-style  that  was killing him.

The end came on .July  20, 1973.  According to the story that  appeared in  the official  inquest  and was later  parroted in Linda  Lee’s  biography  of her  husband, Bruce Lee went on the last afternon of his life  to the apartment of a Taiwanese  sex star, Betty Ting-pei, to have a meeting with her  and Raymond  Chow about Game of Death,  in  which Betty was to play a part. During  the course of the meeting, Lee developed  a  severe  headache,  which caused him to retire to Betty’s  bed.

Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

There he was  left  by Raymond  Chow, who  arranged  to meet with  Lee later  in  the  evening  for supper at the  Miramar Hotel with another actor being considered for a part in the film,  George Lazenby.

When  Betty Ting-pei found that she could not rouse  Bruce Lee from the sleep into which he had fallen, she called Chow or he called  her.  In  any case, the boss of the studio retumed to the actress’s apartment to  find  Lee in  a coma.  When all ef  forts to rouse  him  failed, an ambulance was called and the actor was received that night  at Queen Elizabeth  Hospital,  dead on arrival.

The real story of what happened that aftemoon is supplied  by Bob Wall, who knew all the  principals  and spoke  with them within a few hours of Lee’s death. As Wall knew, Bruce Lee had been involved in a close relationship with Betty Ting-pei for months.

The actress was one of the most sought-after  sex objects in  Hong Kong. Bruce Lee  was very pleased with her and had promised to advance her ca  reer by getting  her a part in  his next film. On the fatal day, the pair had an aftemoon date. Betty Ting-pei  lived  in  a posh high  rise  just a few minutes’ drive  from  Bruce Lee’s  house  in  suburban Kowloon  Tong. The actress’s flat was what the old news  papers used  to call a “Jove  nest”:  an apartment decorated  like  a lady’s  boudoir.

According to Wall, Bruce Lee arrived at three in the afternoon, and after spending some time with  Betty,  he ate a light meal.

.Judging from the autopsy,  Lee had a hash brownie  for dessert.  Then, he  began to complain  of a nagging,  numbing  head  ache. (A feeling of constriction in the head is one of the commonest effects of eating hashish.)  Betty Ting-pei  did not  have any aspirin,  but she had  a pill of similar effect that had been prescribed by her doctor for menstrual  distress.  This drug, Equagesic. is compounded partly of aspirin and partly of the tranquilizer Miltown. According to Betty Ting-pei’s  account.  Bruce Lee took just one tablet.

Lee was  supposed  to meet that night with Raymond Chow, but as the headache worsened. he called to ask that  Chow come to Betty Ting-pei’s flat. When Chow arrived, around 9:30, the meeting commenced;  but it had to be broken off when Lee’s headache grew so severe that he exclaimed,  ”I’ve  got to lie  down.”  Chow chatted for another twenty  minutes with the actress;  then  they both went into  the bedroom  to check on Lee.

They discovered that he could not  beroused. Chow, with the memory of the recent crisis fresh in  his mind,  sought  medical aid  immediately.

He dialed several doctors until  he reached  Betty Ting-pei’s doctor,  Chu Pho-hwye, who  agreed  to come up to the  apartment at once. (That Raymond  Chow did not  summon Bruce Lee’s  regular doctor.  Don Langford,  who lived  in  the immediate  vicinity and who had saved  Bruce Lee’s life during a previous seizure of the same sort, is  probably explained  by the fear of scandal.) Betty Ting-pei’s  doctor spent ten minutes trying to revive  Lee;  then  he gave  up  and summoned an ambulance.

At 11 :24  Ambulance 24 of  the Hong Kong Fire  Services  delivered Lee to the emergency clinic of Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong 1973

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

The chief of the three-man  ambulance crew, an experienced man, testified subsequently  that  he had  examined  Lee when  he arrived  at the flat.  He had  found no signs of life.  Hence,  instead of rushing Lee to the nearest hospital.  he had  hauled the body clear across town to the govem  ment hospital.

All the same. when the hospital  staff  recognized who  had been brought to their  trauma  room,  they were galvanized into action.  For a full half hour, they sought by every means imaginable to resuscitate  the dead man. Finally,  there was nothing  to do but break the news to Lee’s  wife.  who had  been led  to believe that there  was  some  hope  of her  husband’s  survival.

The story of the cover-up that was conducted after Bruce Lee’s death has never been told. It  was  neither  so sinister  as many have  believed  nor  so innocent  as might have been hoped. The first false and misleading statement about the death was an announcement that the great star had died walking  in  his garden accompanied by his  wife.

The  reason  for  the  lie  was probably the fact that Enter  the Dragon was  just  at the point  of release  and ad  verse publicity  might  have jeopardized  a property worth potentially hundreds of millions  of dollars.)

This fib  was  shot to  hell two days later when the ambulance driver sold his story to the  press. which  reported to a stunned Hong Kong on the mornng of Bruce Lee’s funeral that he had died in the apartment  of actress Betty Ting-pei.

Betty Ting-pei,  for her part, sought  to wriggle out of this painful (and dangerous) situation by insisting that she had been out all aftemoon shopping  with  her  mother. This story  was quickly  contradicted by a neighbor,  who  also reported  that Bruce Lee had  been visiting the actress’s apartment for three months, staying sometimes as long  as eight  hours,  with his red  Mercedes parked conspicuously in front of the building.

Bruce Lee and Betty Ting Ping

They finally carry it

At this point, the govemment, which had been  working  vigorously  behind  the scenes to determine what had  really  happened, announced the results  of a very carefully conducted autopsy,  which  had been performed several days after the death.

The report  revealed that the primary  cause of death was brain swelling. Lee’s  brain  had  “swollen like  a sponge,” increasing  in  weight from 1 ,400  to 1 ,575 grams. The report  noted  that cannabis resin had  been found in small quantities in the stomach and small intestine, as well and the residue of the tablet of Equagesic.  No evidence  was  discovered  of disease  or traumatic injury. Bruce Lee had not died a natural  death.

The release of the autopsy finding threw fresh fuel on the flames  of speculation.  Soon the press had printed  all those fantasies about Bruce Lee’s death that are still believed by millions of people the world  around.

There is  a fantasy,  in  fact, for every temperament,  every disposition. Those who believe in the “mysterious East” will tell you that Bruce Lee was killed by a “vibrating  palm,”  a special  blow that the victim may not notice and that does not produce  its  effect  for  days,  weeks, months, or years.  (Interestingly, Bruce Lee himself  claimed to be able to deliver this blow.)

Those disposed  to attribute  all mysterious  deaths to  the  machinations  of the Mob argue that  Bruce Lee was killed by the  Triads,  whose  power he had  supposedly defied.  (This  is  the theme of the posthumous film  Game of Death.)

People in  the movie business point the  finger  of accusation  at Run Run  Shaw. head  of the rival studio in Hong Kong, which was actually negotiating to get Lee away from Raymond Chow when  the actor died.

There are even those  who  blame  Bruce  Lee’s death on Chow, arguing  that Lee repeatedly humiliated  his boss. so much so that when  Lee  died, Chow’s  wife  remarked that the death occurred just in time to save the last scrap of her husband’s pride. (Lee would sneer  at Chow publicly, saying: ”You’re  nothing-I  made you!”).

Yet other theories attribute Bruce Lee’s death to the use of aphrodisiacs, evil influences on his house  (”bad  fung shui’ ‘), or even the mistake of using  the word  death  in the title  of his last picture. What no one wants to concede is the very great possibility that Lee may have died of an overdose of his own head.

Weeks  after Bruce Lee’s  death, a govemment inquest was convened to investigate the  matter.  The govemment was by no means  a disinterested  party in  the in  vestigation.

Several  important  issues hinged on the finding.  For one thing, Bruce Lee was  a youth hero.  Every  move Lee made was mimicked by thousands of youngsters.  If  the actor’s use  of  hashish were blown  up  into  a major  issue,  Hong Kong might soon find itself afflicted with a hashish  epidemic.

Second,  there was the matter of the insurance.  In January  1973,  Bruce Lee had taken out a policy for $500,000. If American Intemational  Assurance could prove that he had lied when he stated on the ap  plication  that he had  never  used  illegal drugs or if it could prove that he had  died as a result of using  illegal  drugs, the widow and her children would be deprived of their insurance benefits. Finally, it was de  sirable in the interests  of civic  pride to put this shocking death in the best light possible, lest people come to believe that Hong Kong was a wicked place where dreadful things happen to even its greatest citizens.

Bruce Lee’s Death

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

At the same  time that the govemment was laboring  to  put an end to this ugly scandal,  it was equally concemed to proceed with the utmost propriety and not ex  pose itself  to charges of tampering  with the evidence or suppressing the facts. Fortunately, the facts were highly ambiguous.

They could be interpreted  in  a number of ways.  If the coroner’s inquest chose the most innocent interpretation. the case could be concluded with no damaging consequences.  So  the  strategy  was adopted of bringing  in from London  a forensic pathologist of great experience who would be sympathetic to the govem  ment’s concems and whose  testimony, having such weight, could exert a decisive influence  on the final  verdict.

To assure that this expert would  not be surprised or unprepared for anything that might come to light during  the inquest,  “‘ private hearing  would be convened, before the  public  hearing,  at which  all the medical authorities, especially those likely to insist  that the  death was drug-related, would  be invited to give their testimony in advance.

When Bruce Lee’s personal physician,  Dr. Don  Langford, objected that this would  taint his evidence,  he was told that as the inquest was  not an adversary  proceeding but  a  disinterested search for truth, there could be no harm in this  little preview-though, of  course, when it came time for the public hearing, each witness  would testify  in  a manner that made it appear that he had no knowl  edge of what the other witnesses were de  poning.

The  presiding  figure at  this rehearsal  tor the  inquest,  conducted at Queen Elizabeth  Hospital  about a week before the  public hearing,  was the  re  spected expert  recommended  by Scot  land Yard, R. 0.  Teare,  Professor of Forensic  Pathology  at the University  of London.

The coroner,  C. K. Egbert  Tung,  who conducted the inquest, and who was re  sponsible with the three-man jury for arriving at the final verdict, was a lawyer, not a medical man with extensive scientific qualifications.

To conduct such an investi  gation or even to comprehend the techni  cal testimony,  which  had to be literally spelled out and sometimes translated into Chinese as the coroner took longhand notes, was an extremely formidable enterprise.

Even it the coroner had been a highly trained forensic pathologist,  however, he would have  had  his work cut out tor him, because the Bruce Lee case entailed some very controversial issues, as well as matters into  which there has  never  been any research.

No one, tor example, wanted to say that I Bruce Lee had simply died of hashish poi  soning, because fatal cases of this sort are extremely rare and no-re that has been recorded  is  of absolute certainty.

What Lee’s  physicians,  Dr. Langford and the brain specialist,  Dr.  Peter Wu, wanted to suggest was the  possibility that  Lee had developed an allergy or was hypersensi  tive to hashish, either alone or in combina  tion with other drugs, such as the aspirin in the Equagesic.

(Aspirin  in  combination with certain chemicals produces a power  ful effect on the brain  known colloquially as a “Mickey Finn.”) Professor Teare, on the other hand, was utterly opposed to al  lowing any reference to hashish to appear in the finding, arguing that there were no precedents that would justify such a ver  dict.

The Professor  was clearly  in  error.  In 1970, tor example, a young athlete died at Antwerp in  a room  wherA he  had  been smoking  hashish.  The highly  respected pathologist, Dr. Aubin Heyndrickx, who conducted the autopsy, made an exhaustive  effort to determine  whether  or not hashish  had  been the cause of death.

Eventually, through a great multiplication of the usual number of tests, he was able to rule oul every other imaginable cause. leaving hashish as  the  presumptive cause

The strongest evidence  I collected for death by hashish poisoning was provided by Dr. Francis Mas, a psycho-pharmacologist on the faculty of the Albert Einstein Medical  College in  New  York. Or.  Mas served  his intemship  at Casablanca in 1966.

He was attached to the emergency room and intensive-care unit of Averroes Hospital. It was not uncommon on a Saturday night tor a patient to be brought in suf fering from overindulgence in hashish. Generally, these people recovered after a night’s sleep.

Once in a while,  however, such a case would exhibit precisely the symptoms observed  in  Bruce  Lee,  including  coma, brin  edema.  and respiratory  collapse.

Before the doctors could reverse the process. the patient would die. Or. Mas ob  served one such case personally and was told about another.  The only cause for these fatal seizures that the medical staff could discover was that the victims had consumed hashish  that was either very fresh or had  been prepared  in  a manner that increased  its  potency.

That Bruce Lee was consuming hashish of exceptionally  high  potency is  quite probable  in  view of the drug’s  prove  nance. Nepalese hash is the most powerful in the world because it is produced by a unique process. Instead of sieving out the tops of the plants, as is done in Morocco, Lebanon, and Afghanistan-a  technique that allows the product to become adulterated with inactive vegetable matter-the Nepalese  wait till the  sun makes  the leaves of their towering plants sweat pure resin. Then they rub off this resin with their bare hands  and compress  it  in  scrP.w presses. The resulting product is a pure concentrate of the 400 ingredients  that comprise hashish.

If the customer can command the best, the so-called Royal Hashish, a drug that is often productive of violent effects, including numerous neurological symptoms.

Laurence Chemlak, the only foreigner ever to study and photograph the production of Royal  Hashish  at close-hand,  describes the effects of this preparation in The Great Books of Hashish, Volume I, as “so potent it was almost lethal.

Bruce Lee and his Drug Addiction: Hash

Hashish, or hash, is a drug made from the resin of the cannabis plant. It is consumed by smoking a small piece, typically in a pipe, bong, vaporizer or joint, or via oral ingestion (after decarboxylation). As pure hashish will not burn if rolled alone, it is typically mixed with herbal cannabis, tobacco or even baked in bronies, and eaten as alteranative form of consumption. Depending on region or country, multiple synonyms and alternative names exist.

When the govemment’s  principal  ex  pert witness. Professor Teare, stopped debunking the notion that Bruce Lee might have  perished from hashish toxicity, he was left with the task of explaining how in fact Bruce Lee did die.

Strange to say, he employed precisely the same concept as that invoked by the rival doctors: the idea of hypersensitivity. Instead of inferring that Bruce  Lee was hypersensitive to one or more of the 400 ingredients of hashish, Professor Teare argued that Lee had over  reacted to the three ingredients of Equagesic.

Want some Candy

 

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

Equagesic (meprobamate and aspirin) is a combination tranquilizer and analgesic used as an adjunct in the short-term treatment of pain accompanied by tension and/or anxiety in patients with musculoskeletal disease.

At this point, the professor’s bias should have been apparent to any medically qualified  and fair-minded coroner;  for if  the medical literature  contains few  cases of hashish poisoning, it contains none of fatal hypersensitivity  to one tablet of Equagesic.

Not one of the numerous diagnosticians. neurologists, forensic pathologists, or psycho pharmacologists  whom I inter  viewed  concerning this  case  had  the slightest hesitation in  rejecting  Professor Teare’s hypothesis as untenable and even ridiculous.

The Hong Kong coroner. how  ever, for reasons best known to himself, adopted this explanation as the final find  ing  of the court,  ascribing  Bruce Lee’s death to “hypersensitivity to the ingredi  ents of Equagesic.” The inquest found, therefore, that Bruce Lee, one of the best  condi1ioned men on earth, had died of an aspirin.

Today, almost ten years after his death (the date of this article), Bruce Lee seems immortal.  He has joined the  company of those rare  pop heroes who not only impress their image indelibly on the consciousness of the entire world bu1  who become  forces, powers, presences,  influencing 1he  lives and fantasies of untold  millions.

Bruce Lee pallbearers and Steve McQueen, and James Colburn

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

It needs  no  saying that to  produce such an immense  impact,  a man rot only must have  ability but also must possess  an unmatched  instinct for striking  just that nerve  in  the mass  con  sciousness that is waiting to vibrate. In the case of Bruce Lee, this  nerve  contains many strands, whose distinctness is best seen by comparing the effect he has in the Orient with 1hat in the West.

The Oriental  Bruce  Lee-to  phrase it bluntly-put  balls on 400 million Chinamen. He gave his countrymen-at their moment of entrance into the great world toumament whose rules have been estab  lished  by the Westem powers-a  hero who embodied the  Westem gift for aggressiveness to such an extraordinary degree that he could beat the Westemers and their Japanese copycats-at  their own bloody  game.

To the Westemer, on the other hand,  Bruce Lee offers a fantasy escape from the feelings of terror and helplessness engendered by living in our nightmarish, violence-stalked, urban jungles.

Both Eastem  and Westem man suffer from the feeling of being unmanned. Both clamor for restitution of their lost sense of virility. It was Bruce Lee’s function to reaf  firm  and exalt the masculine essence bym performing it over and over, with ever in creasing  charisma.  the  primitive  ritual  of mortal combat.

No wonder, therefore, that Bruce Lee exists for millions of people as a cult figure, who is worshiped-precisely as the ancients worshiped Hercules and Achilles-as a demigod.

It doesn’t take any great understanding of  Lee to  know that he would have been thrilled oy his posthumous fame. All his lite he struggled  to transcend  himself and to become more than man. Now  he stands exalted in the pop pantheon, unquestion  ably the most magical figure produced by popular culture since the great days of the sixties.

Yes,  the Dragon would have  gotten off en the idea of immortality. He would have saluted the world with his crazy jungle-bird squawk of triumph.

The Last Dragon

Bruce Lee: His Final Victim

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