The real reason Bruce Lee had his armpit sweat glands removed

Ah, vanity. How many of us have been miserable in order to look good? (Even great?) Or at least think we do? The trail of history is littered with fashions that caused biological catastrophe for the sake of some misguided attempt at beauty. Rib bones surgically removed to make curvier waistlines. Corsets that cinched in women’s waists so tightly they couldn’t breathe, leading to pneumonia. Back teeth taken out to enhance cheekbones. Not to mention foot binding, hair transplants, nose jobs…. As more than one person has reasoned, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” Plenty of character actors have made a tidy living by looking odd, if not downright unattractive, but for the leading roles, aspire to perfection. And if you aren’t born that way, make it happen.

No doubt it was a mixture of dedication to physical perfection and wanting to make successful movies that drove supreme martial artist Bruce Lee. He first graced the screen as a baby, according to Biography, and went on to a decent career as a child actor as he polished his skills in the martial arts. He even danced well, winning a Hong Kong cha-cha competition. He made a stab at Hollywood, winning roles on The Green Hornet as Kate and on Longstreet as the martial arts instructor of a blind insurance investigator, before returning to Asia and becoming a powerhouse in the Hong Kong film industry.

Bruce Lee’s search for perfection paid dividends

Artists sacrifice for their art. Lee was no exception. Part of the art of movies is aesthetics — being willing to look good over feeling good. It wasn’t that he was extraordinarily sweaty individual, says The Cheat Sheet. According to History, Lee had decided that sweaty underarms were unappealing on the sliver screen, so he had them removed. True, the human body’s sweat glands can be kind of gross, but they also perform an important function: producing fluid to help cool the body when it starts to overheat. He’d already had one incident of heat stroke during the summer while re-recording film dialogue in a room with the air conditioning turned off.

His death at age 32, in the apartment of his mistress, is now attributed to heat stroke as well, leading to cerebral edema — swelling on the brain. He’d been acting out some of the fight choreography on the film he had just begun during a brutal Hong Kong summer. Afterward, he lay down to rest, and died.

It’s not unusual. As explained by Dr. Lisa Leon, hyperthermia expert at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, one incident of heat stroke often leads to another. “Patients experience multi-organ dysfunction during the hours, days and weeks of recovery,” she said, “which increases the risk of long-term disability and death.” Even for a dragon.