South Korean actor Lee Sun-kyun, best known globally for his role in the Oscar-winning film Parasite, was found dead in Seoul on Wednesday, police said. The 48-year-old actor was found inside a vehicle parked on the street in the capital’s mid-northern Seongbuk district, an official from the Seongbuk police station told AFP.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing police, that Lee had left a “note that reads like a will”. He had been under police investigation over his alleged use of marijuana and other drugs.
A series of entertainment industry events in South Korea were announced as cancelled on Wednesday in order to pay condolences to the late actor.
Filmmaker Byun Young-joo, who collaborated with Lee on her 2012 thriller Helpless, honoured his memory by sharing a pitch-black image on her Instagram account. Actress Claudia Kim, also known as Soo Hyun, wrote on the social media platform that Lee’s death was “a loss of great talent” for the industry.
“Everyone deserves to be forgiven for their mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance,” she wrote.
Once celebrated for his wholesome image, local news outlets reported that the actor was being dropped from television and commercial projects following the scandal. A graduate of South Korea’s prestigious Korea National University of Arts, Lee made his acting debut in 2001 in a television sitcom titled Lovers. He later won acclaim for his performances in a variety of roles, including a charismatic chef and a genius neuroscientist who is incapable of empathy.
Lee received widespread critical acclaim for his performance in the 2018 TV drama series My Mister, for his portrayal of a diligent architectural engineer. Globally, he is best known for his role as the wealthy and shallow patriarch in director Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 Oscar-winning film Parasite.
He was also recognised for his performances in romance flicks, such as the 2007 TV drama Coffee Prince and the 2012 film All About My Wife. Lee made appearances in South Korea’s internationally acclaimed filmmaker Hong Sang-soo’s movies, such as Our Sunhi (2013) and Oki’s Movie (2010).
His latest released film, this year’s horror flick Sleep - in which he played a husband whose sleepwalking eventually leads to terrifying circumstances - was well-received and featured in the Critics’ Week section at the Cannes festival.
Devastated fans expressed their grief on social media, with one user writing on X: “I laughed and cried a lot while watching your acting. Thank you.” Renowned Korean-American writer Min Jin Lee also expressed her condolences. “Lee was praiseworthy in Parasite and exceptional in My Mister,” she wrote on Instagram. “May he be remembered for his excellent work and creative gifts.”
Lee’s reputation suffered a significant blow when South Korean authorities launched an investigation into his alleged drug use in October. He had been suspected of using illicit drugs at the residence of a hostess employed at a high-end bar in Seoul.
According to Yonhap, the actor asserted that he was “tricked” by the hostess into consuming the drugs and was unaware of what they were. Lee had tested negative for drugs twice, during police investigations and in a lab test last month, the news agency reported.
He had also lodged a complaint against two individuals, including the hostess, alleging that they had blackmailed him and extorted money from him. From December 23-24, he attended his third police investigation session, which lasted 19 hours, Yonhap reported.
He briefly spoke to reporters in late October before entering a police station in Incheon to meet with investigators. “I sincerely apologise for causing great disappointment to many people by being involved in such an unpleasant incident,” he said at the time. “I feel sorry for my family, which is enduring such difficult pain at this moment. Once again, I sincerely apologise to everyone.”
South Korea has extremely tough laws on illegal drugs, with Koreans who take drugs such as marijuana legally abroad risking prosecution upon returning to their home country. The Seongbuk police official said authorities believed his body had been taken to the Seoul National University Hospital. Lee is survived by his wife, actress Jeon Hye-jin and two sons.
Police investigate a car in which the body of actor Lee Sun-kyun was found at a park in central Seoul.
South Korean actor Lee Sun-kyun arriving at a police station in Incheon for his police questioning over his alleged use of marijuana and other psychoactive drugs earlier this week.
An ambulance carrying the body of actor Lee Sun-kyun leaves a park in central Seoul.