New photo of Jet Li's physical deterioration is breaking the internet's heart

Jet Li is one of modern martial arts cinema’s greatest stars, thanks to his work in such hits as Once Upon a Time in China, Fist of Legend, Romeo Must Die, and Hero. However, the actor hasn’t appeared on U.S. screens since 2014’s The Expendables 3  —  and a new report indicates the reason is his stunning and heartbreaking physical condition.

Li’s last role was in 2016’s League of Gods, a Chinese fantasy epic in which he boasted a bald head and long white beard as a hero plagued by a spell that forces him to age in reverse. Alas, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Li’s elderly appearance in that film wasn’t just the magic of makeup. During a recent visit to Tibet, a fan snapped a photo alongside Li, and had he not been identified by name, it’s unclear whether anyone would have recognized the international icon because he looks decades older than his 55 years.

Last month it was announced that Li would star as the Emperor in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of the studio’s animated hit Mulan. Yet, as he  announced in 2013,  he’s suffering from hyperthyroidism as well as heart and spinal conditions, which have largely forced him to retire from acting. At the time, he admitted, “I’m just a regular guy, I’m not Wong Fei Hung, I’m not Huo Yuan Jia [kung fu heroes he portrays on film], I’m not a hero. I’m just like you. … I’m in pain, but I’m not suffering. I’m happy.” In place of his movie work, Li has dedicated most of his time and energy over the past few years to his charity The One Foundation, which focuses on disaster relief and children’s welfare in his native China. And although he has yet to need a wheelchair  —  which he once said was a possibility because of his medical circumstances  —  the above photo has predictably sparked worldwide concern from fans about his health.

It’s a stunning transformation from even a few months ago, when Li appeared bald  —  but otherwise recognizable  —  in a 2018 New Year’s video on Facebook.

Here’s hoping Li gets the treatment he needs, and that he’s back on the big screen sooner rather than later.

UPDATE May 22, 2018 at 9 a.m. PT: Speaking to the Washington Post, Li’s manager, Steven Chasman, sought to downplay the photo. “He has hyperthyroidism that he’s been dealing with for almost 10 years. It’s nothing life-threatening and he’s dealing with it.” He referred to the internet’s reaction as “sensationalism” and shared an image of Li that he says was taken in the past week.

Jet Li’s manager Steven Chasman released this recent photo of Li. (Photo courtesy of Steven Chasman)

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