In a recent study published in the Clinical Kidney Journal, researchers concluded that the 1973 death of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee may have resulted from hyponatremia. It is a disorder that causes low salt levels in the blood due to excessive water consumption.
“Be water, my friend.” A recent study reveals that the individual who popularised this idiom may have perished from consuming too much water.
Did Bruce Lee Die from Drinking Too Much Water?
Bruce Lee passed away in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973, at 32. The exact reason for his death was unknown, but 50 years later, researchers believe he likely died of hyponatremia. This disorder causes a low salt concentration in the blood due to excessive water intake.
According to the study published in the Clinical Kidney Journal, “We propose that Bruce Lee was murdered by the kidney’s inability to eliminate excess water. Ironically, Lee made the phrase “Be water, my buddy” popular, yet it appears that excess water ultimately killed him.”
But that simple explanation for how a seemingly healthy young man who appeared unstoppable onscreen was taken down so abruptly did not sit well with fans. Since his death, many have presented their hypotheses, some of which are rather absurd. Was it a hit by a criminal organization? A centuries-old curse on his family? Murder committed by an alleged mistress in a passionate crime worthy of the silver screen? There is no factual basis for any of these beliefs, yet due to Lee’s reputation as a cultural hero, they have lasted fifty years after his passing.
Some have searched through his autopsy report and come up with various medical hypotheses, which are considerably more founded explanations. For instance, a 2018 biography suggested that Lee died from heat stroke, which would explain why some of his sweat glands were surgically removed.
In November 2022, renal doctors published a report proposing a new theory: Did Lee die from hyponatremia, a disorder characterized by an abnormally low sodium balance in the body? In a piece for Clinical Kidney Journal, doctors hypothesized that Lee may have consumed too much water on the day of his death and that his kidneys were unable to excrete it adequately:
The autopsy demonstrated cerebral edema. Two months ago, a previous episode was classified as cerebral oedema. We now argue, based on a review of publicly accessible evidence, that the cause of death was cerebral oedema caused to hyponatremia. In other words, we propose that the kidney’s failure to remove extra water killed Bruce Lee.
The researchers believe that Lee had numerous risk factors for the condition, including those supporting “high chronic fluid intake,” such as marijuana use, and ones that would reduce his ability to excrete enough of it, including prescription medicines. Lee also had a history of (to put it mildly) extreme and extended activity and kidney injury. They also discovered “evidence indicating he drank water repeatedly on the day of his death.”
Drinking water may seem the most harmless and even healthiest action, and in most circumstances, it is. But in rare situations, if someone drinks too much water and doesn’t pee it off, it can put the body’s chemical balance dangerously out of sync and turn lethal. The researchers cited such an instance in their article about Bruce Lee.
— Bruce Lee (@brucelee) November 18, 2022
Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old from Northern California, passed away in 2007 after participating in a radio station’s “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest, in which contestants drank massive quantities of water and refrained from urinating to win a Nintendo Wii. Bay Area news site SFGate claimed that although Strange was the only person who died due to the tournament, other contestants grew very ill.
We are now classifying this claim as “Unproven” because it is only a hypothesis put out by medical researchers. We will revisit this article if or when we find additional information supporting or refuting it.