According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jet Li has been suffering from a heart condition and hyperthyroidism—which has visibly aged him rapidly and substantially—for a few years now, having only revealed these afflictions publicly in 2013. While the martial arts icon appeared to be his normal self in The Expendables 3, he had already been battling his health issues for at least a year upon the film’s release.
Li, a dedicated Buddhist, recently visited Tibet. The trip resulted in shocked fans taking photographs and plastering them across the internet. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of negative commentary on social media in China, regarding Li’s elderly appearance and comparisons to people decades older than the 55-year-old star. Humor is often an understandable method to process grief, and frankly, it’s not easy seeing Li looking this old.
According to Li’s doctor, the actor could “either continue making [action] films or spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair,” as it wasn’t simply his heart and thyroid issues plaguing his well-being but the litany of injuries to his legs and spine accumulated over decades of intense onscreen fight work. Li is apparently unable to stand for long periods of time without hunching his back and being in visible discomfort.
Here's a New Year's message he shared in late December:
While the Li was recently called “grandpa” by little kids visiting a Tibetan temple alongside him, Li doesn’t seem to be dwelling on his problems and is finding solace through his religion and humanitarian work. The actor has been tirelessly promoting his charity, The One Foundation, which gives relief to children and disaster victims in China. Li was inspired to start this organization upon experiencing the Indian Ocean tsunami in the Maldives in 2004 firsthand.
While it’s difficult to see a man who gave so much of his time and effort to entertain audiences worldwide suffer from such a seemingly cruel condition, it’s all the more inspiring to see the same man deal with his problems in such a generous manner.