Actor and kung-fu expert Bruce Lee
Actor and kung-fu expert Bruce Lee Image Credit: PA Images/Reuters

Martial arts legend and actor Bruce Lee may have died from drinking too much water, a new study claims.

Doctors are making the claim almost 50 years after the icon died aged 32 in the summer of 1973 in Hong Kong.

An autopsy report from the time showed that the ‘Enter the Dragon’ star died due to brain swelling, which medics said was due to taking a painkiller. Researchers have now reviewed the evidence and concluded that Lee is more likely to have died from hyponatremia.

A team of experts wrote in the Clinical Kidney Journal: “In other words, we propose that the kidney’s inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee. We hypothesise that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction: the inability to excrete enough water to maintain water homeostasis, which is mainly a tubular function.”

“This may lead to hyponatremia, cerebral edema (brain swelling) and death within hours if excess water intake is not matched by water excretion in urine, which is in line with the timeline of Lee’s demise... ironically, Lee made famous the quote, ‘Be water, my friend,’ but excess water appears to have ultimately killed him.”

The study claimed Lee had multiple risk factors for hyponatremia, including drinking high quantities of liquid and using cannabis, which increases thirst. Hyponatremia is when the sodium level in blood, which people need for fluid balance, is abnormally low.

The imbalance causes cells in the body to swell, including those in the brain. Lee’s death has been surrounded for decades by conspiracy theories that include that he may have been assassinated by Chinese gangsters, poisoned by a jealous lover or was the victim of a curse.

His wife Linda Lee, 77, revealed that the kung-fu expert had a fluid-based diet of carrot and apple juice before his death. Matthew Polly, who wrote the 2018 biography ‘Bruce Lee, A Life’ referred to Lee’s repeated water intake on the evening of his death.