Lee Sun-kyun, the South Korean actor who starred in Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning film Parasite and the Apple TV+ series Dr. Brain, has died in an apparent suicide. He was 48.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reports that Lee was found dead inside a car at a park in Seoul on Wednesday morning, local time. Yonhap reports that Lee’s wife reported to police that the actor had left home and that she had found what appeared to be a suicide note.
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Local media reports noted that Lee had been under investigation over allegations that he had used illegal drugs. In recent weeks, the South Korean government’s ongoing crackdown on hard drugs has led to a series of allegations against high-profile people including actors, singers, socialites and heirs to the country’s richest families. The K-pop singer G-Dragon is among those who have been swept up in the crackdown, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing last week.
Yonhap reports that Lee had been questioned three times by police, including for 19 hours over the weekend over his use of marijuana and psychoactive drugs. Lee is reported to have visited Seoul’s Gangnam district on multiple occasions since early this year, including last Saturday, where he allegedly took drugs. The actor reportedly said he was tricked into taking drugs by a bar hostess, who then tried to blackmail him.
South Korea’s drug laws are notoriously tough, and crimes are typically punishable by at least six months in prison or up to 14 years for repeat offenders and dealers.
Dubbed “The Voice” by his fans in Korea for his deep voice, Lee is best known to Western audiences for playing Park Dong-ik, the patriarch of the rich family that owns the house that is the setting of Bong’s 2019 black comedy thriller Parasite. Lee was awarded a Screen Actors Guild Award along with the rest of the Parasite cast.
Born in Seoul in 1975, Lee studied drama at the Korea National University of Arts. He made his television breakthrough in the medical drama White Tower (2007) and was positively received in the youthful drama Coffee Prince (2007).
On television, Lee was known for his collaborations with writer Seo Sook-hyang, with the pair working together on Drama City; the popular workplace romantic comedy Pasta (2010), in which the actor played an arrogant chef at an Italian restaurant; and the 1997-set drama Miss Korea (2013).
He transitioned to features and in 2012 starred in two of the biggest Korean films of that year, playing the lead in Byun Young-joo’s psychological thriller Helpless and the timid husband in Min Kyu-dong’s romantic comedy All About My Wife.
A versatile actor, Lee worked seamlessly between major films and big television dramas and also performed in theater productions. He starred in three indie films for prolific Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, including Night and Day (2008), Oki’s Movie (2010) and Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013).
His other notable film credits include the lead role in A Hard Day (2014), Kim Seong-hun’s action thriller that was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival, and Park Chan-ok’s Paju (2009) which played the international festival circuit.
In 2021, Lee starred in Dr. Brain, Apple TV+’s first Korean-language original series. In the six-episode sci-fi thriller, he played Koh Se-won, a cold, calculating neurologist who tries to garner clues via brain experiments to solve a family mystery.
Lee is survived by his wife, the actress Jeon Hye-jin, and their two sons.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
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