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Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

Old 06-06-18, 04:01 PM
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Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

An excerpt from Matthew Polly's new Bruce Lee bio book:

On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died from heat stroke. It is the most plausible scientific theory for his death. Consider the timeline. Ten weeks earlier on May 10, 1973, Bruce Lee collapsed after working in a boiling hot room. He displayed multiple symptoms of central nervous system dysfunction (nausea, vomiting, staggering, collapse), and his temperature was dangerously elevated—the two diagnostic criteria for hyperthermia. Bruce had a long history of being vulnerable to heat. His risk factor was increased by sleep deprivation, extreme weight loss, and the recent surgical removal of his armpit sweat glands.

July 20, 1973, was the hottest day of the month in tropical Hong Kong. In Betty Ting Pei’s small apartment, Bruce demonstrated scene after kung fu scene from Game of Death. “In telling the story, he acted out the whole thing,” Raymond Chow says. “So, that probably made him a little tired and thirsty. After a few sips he seemed to be a little dizzy.” Just like on May 10, Bruce exerted himself in a hot enclosed space and ended up feeling faint and suffering from a headache—two early signs of heat stroke. He wandered into Betty’s bedroom, fell onto her bed, and never got up again. “A person who has suffered one heat stroke is at increased risk for another,” says Dr. Lisa Leon, an expert in hyperthermia at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. “Patients experience multi-organ dysfunction during the hours, days, and weeks of recovery, which increases risk for long-term disability and death.”

Of the minor drugs in Bruce’s stomach on July 20, neither cannabis nor meprobamate is known to cause cerebral edema. The only possible suspect is aspirin. The Mayo Clinic lists the potential reactions to aspirin as “hives, itchy skin, runny nose, red eyes, swelling of lips, tongue or face, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and anaphylaxis—a rare, life-threatening allergic reaction.” More commonly caused by bee stings and peanut allergies, anaphylaxis can result in fatal cerebral edema. When Professor Teare and Dr. Lycette were theorizing about hypersensitivity to aspirin, they were talking about anaphylactic shock.

But anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, is almost always accompanied by other symptoms—an enflamed trachea, neck, tongue, and lips, as well as hives and red itchy skin in and around the mouth. In fatal cases, the swelling of the throat blocks the airway resulting in asphyxia and cerebral edema. The paramedics and doctors who treated Bruce the night of July 20 did not find any inflammation of Bruce’s tongue or throat. Nor did the coroner, Dr. Lycette, during the autopsy. Bruce Lee was a hard-core martial artist who took aspirin for pain most of his adult life. While it is possible he suddenly developed a life-threatening allergy to aspirin at the age of thirty-two, the odds that he died from anaphylactic shock without any of the associated symptoms are vanishingly small.

Compared to aspirin allergies, heat stroke is a far more common killer of young athletic men. It is the third most common cause of sudden death in sports activities and rises to first during the hottest months of summer. In the United States alone, an average of three high school and college football players die every year of heat stroke. Korey Stringer, a twenty-seven-year-old professional football player, collapsed on a Minnesota Vikings practice field on a sweltering July afternoon in 2001. His death prompted immediate changes regarding heat stroke prevention throughout the NFL. There was even less awareness of hyperthermia’s dangers in 1973 than 2001. Even now proper treatment is not known by every physician.

While it is impossible to know for certain what caused Lee’s death, hyperthermia is the most likely explanation. If it was heat stroke, then Bruce Lee died doing what he loved most—performing kung fu in front of an appreciative audience.

From the moment he was cast in his first movie as a two-month-old, Bruce Lee spent his time on this earth entertaining and educating others. With an intensity rarely seen before or since, Never Sits Still squeezed an entire lifetime’s worth of accomplishments into thirty-two short years. His death was not a tragedy, because his life was a triumph. “Even though I, Bruce Lee, may die someday without fulfilling all of my ambitions, I feel no sorrow,” he told a Hong Kong reporter in 1972 as if anticipating his own eulogy. “I did what I wanted to do. What I’ve done, I’ve done with sincerity sincerity and to the best of my ability. You can’t expect much more from life.”

Polly, Matthew. Bruce Lee: A Life (p. 475). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
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Old 06-07-18, 11:59 AM
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Re: Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

Regarding the allegation made by Bruce Lee's widow's second husband that Lee abused anabolic steroids:

In his harsh biography, Unsettled Matters, Tom Bleecker claimed that Bruce Lee abused steroids for years (pp. 85–87). Since his book contains no footnotes or endnotes, I asked him during our interview if he would provide me with evidence for his assertion. He refused. Bleecker’s book fanned long-held suspicions of steroid abuse. During my research for this book, I made a point of asking almost everyone who knew Bruce about it. About half strenuously denied it (Linda said, “Oh God, no. Never.”), and about half started to whisper or asked me to turn off my tape recorder. The latter didn’t have any evidence, but they still believed it and didn’t want to be on the record tarnishing his image.

Polly, Matthew. Bruce Lee: A Life (p. 547). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

59. In Bleecker’s scathing biography, he draws broad, unsubstantiated conclusions from Lee’s cryptorchidism—claiming that one undescended testicle caused Bruce to frequently suffer from impotence, an inability to develop a mature musculature without the aid of anabolic steroids, and “psychosocial immaturity” (pp. 19–20, 38). These claims are absurd. The only two physical risks associated with cryptorchidism are infertility and testicular cancer. It does not cause impotence or stunt muscular development, and there are no proven psychological side effects. Lee fathered two children, had an active sex life, and had the same wiry musculature in his teenage years as his two brothers.

Polly, Matthew. Bruce Lee: A Life (p. 524). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
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Old 06-08-18, 04:17 PM
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Re: Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

When Steve McQueen was just starting out in the 1950s, he hung with Frank Sinatra and saw the private jets, limousines, red carpet events, screaming fans, opened doors and fawning admiration. "I want some of that," McQueen whispered to his wife. In the 1960s, it was Bruce Lee's turn to feel the same way.

What Lee wanted more than anything was a new sports car. He neglected his old Chevy Nova, hardly ever cleaning it. The only thing he liked was the sticker on the back window with the inscription: "This Car Is Protected by the Green Hornet." (Lee made his U.S. debut playing Kato in the 1960s ABC series.)

Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring would let Lee race his Shelby Cobra along Mulholland Drive. Lee admired the Cobra, but what he really desired was a Porsche 911S Targa, because McQueen had one. On Aug. 26, 1968, he visited Bob Smith's Volkswagen-Porsche dealership in Hollywood for a test drive. As soon as he got home, he called up McQueen in Palm Springs. "Steve, I'm going to get a Porsche like yours," Lee declared.

"Look, Bruce, let me take you for a ride in mine when I get back," McQueen cautioned. "It's a hot car, but if you don't know what you are doing you can get into trouble with this thing."

McQueen could have made his living as a Grand Prix driver, while Lee was by all accounts a menace behind the wheel. ("He was just way too fast," says Dan Inosanto, Lee's training partner. "It would scare me.") Lee was expecting a joy ride, but McQueen hoped to frighten Lee out of buying a Porsche.

McQueen picked up Lee and drove up the San Fernando Valley to Mulholland Drive. "OK, Bruce, you ready?" McQueen said. "Yes, I'm all set. Let's go!" McQueen peeled away, grinding through the gears as he twisted and turned along the winding, dangerous path high in the Santa Monica mountains. "What do you think of this power, Bruce?" McQueen shouted over the engine roar. Lee said nothing. "Watch this!" McQueen yelled as he slalomed to the edge of the precipice. "Isn't that great, Bruce? See how it handles. Now watch how I slide it!" McQueen put the Porsche into a tail slide as he went right to the edge. "Isn't that great, Bruce?" No reply.

"Watch this, Bruce. Sucker will do a mean 180," McQueen announced as he geared it up, spun it around, and stopped the car. He looked over: "What do you think, Bruce?" But Lee wasn't in the seat. McQueen looked down and saw Lee huddled in the footwell with his hands over his head. "McQueen, you sonovabitch!" Lee shouted as he pulled himself back into the seat. "McQueen, I'll bloody kill you! I'll kill you, McQueen! I'm gonna kill you!"

McQueen saw the look of rage on Lee's face and it terrified him. He knew how deadly Lee could be when he was angry. So McQueen raced back up Mulholland Drive as fast as he could. "Bruce, calm down!" McQueen shouted.

"Steve, slow down," Lee cried out. "You won't hit me, will you, Bruce?" McQueen pleaded. "No, no," said Lee. "You won't hurt me will you?" McQueen asked again. "No, no!" yelled Lee. "Just stop the car. Stop the car!" McQueen finally pulled over to the side, and Lee said, "I will never drive with you again, McQueen. Never!"

Excerpted from Bruce Lee: A Life © 2018 by Matthew Polly. Published by Simon & Schuster.
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Old 06-12-18, 08:21 PM
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Re: Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

Author Matthew Polly says Bruce Lee was 5/8 Han Chinese, 1/4 British and 1/8 Jewish.
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Old 06-24-18, 01:37 AM
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Re: Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

Some more tidbits from author Matthew Polly:

After I interviewed Betty Ting Pei and wrote in my Playboy piece about Enter the Dragon (2013) that Betty had finally admitted that she was his mistress (the first time she gone on the record about that with a Western reporter.), Shannon decided she no longer wanted to work with me. It is the formal policy of the Estate to never cooperate on any project that investigates his death or the circumstances around it. Fortunately I was able to interview Shannon and Linda prior to this break, which I anticipated would occur at some point.

So instead I gained access to his daytime planners, autopsy report, inquest transcript, screenplays, and many of his notes (but certainly not all; there are boxes and boxes of them) through other sources. My belief is the Estate was hoping its withdrawal of support would cripple my project.

Prior to me, Steve McQueen's biographer, Marshall Terrill, approached the Estate about writing a proper biography of Lee and was rejected because in his McQueen biography he had stated that Lee spoke with an accent. I don't think he was the only one rejected over the years. It is my view that the Estate has wanted to maintain a monopoly on the representation of Lee in the media and therefore has discouraged competition. Based on my conversations with the Estate's lawyer, I'm convinced they would have sued to stop this book if they had believed it would have worked. I was very worried up until the day of publication.

1b) I have forgotten that section of Bleecker's book. He has so many outrageous claims in it. The idea that it was a minor injury is total BS and yet another example of how unreliable this book by Linda's ex-husband is. In his daytime diaries, Lee wrote down, "Back Injury" and then what follows is months of doctor's appointments where he was going in for treatment and presumably cortisone shots on a weekly basis. Either it was a major injury, or Bruce was a hypochondriac. As for how he injured his back, I found no evidence to suggest it wasn't from weightlifting (The Good Morning exercise). Bleecker is obsessed throughout the book with two things: how much money Linda made off of Lee (a portion of which he was hoping to get his hands on as her husband until she divorced him) and Linda's sex life. It seems obvious hateful BS to me. What fit 29 year old injures his back so badly he needs months of cortisone injections from having sex with his wife? If Sharon Farrell's testimony tells us anything it's that Lee was as good at sex as he was kung fu.

2) I spent a lot of time arguing with the University of Washington about getting my hands on his transcript. They can only release it with the permission of the family, and I no longer had it at that point. But I was able to find it through another source. The version I obtained listed his classes but not his grades. Officials at UW confirmed its legitimacy. On it, it lists his major as "Drama." My description of his academic career at UW was based on the transcript and also a Seattle Times reporter who saw a version of the transcript with the grades attached. In his Junior year, Bruce took his first two classes in philosophy: both introductory classes. I believe he was planning to change his major but never got around to it before deciding he was going to drop out. So he was telling, in my view, a small fib: He intended to major in philosophy.

He also wrote a letter to a H.K. friend saying he was taking college classes in California and intended to graduate as a philosophy major. There is no evidence he ever took another college class after dropping out of UW. It seems clear to me that he was deeply embarrassed that he never graduated from college unlike his older brother who his father favored for being the intellectual of the family. I have always wondered if Bruce would have found a way to finish up his college degree if Linda hadn't gotten pregnant.
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