Lee Sun Kyun, a star of Oscar-winning film ‘Parasite,’ dies amid drug investigation

Actor Lee Sun Kyun, who gained international fame in the Oscar-winning movie “Parasite,” has died in Seoul amid a police investigation into suspected drug use. He was 48.

His death was confirmed by the Associated Press and Korean media outlets, which cited local police.

Lee’s wife reported to police that he left a note akin to a suicide note, according to Korean-language outlet Yonhap News. Police later found Lee unconscious inside his car at a park in Seoul around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, local time, according to the outlet.

Lee had been under investigation by local police over the last couple of months due to allegations of drug use.

Yonhap News reported that he’d been questioned on suspicion of using marijuana and other illegal drugs. Lee had previously stated that he was tricked into doing drugs.

The actor’s agency, HODU&U Entertainment, said in October that Lee had faced threats and extortion regarding the alleged drug use. He tested negative in drug tests administered by authorities, according to Yonhap News.

Over the weekend, Lee had faced 19 hours of police questioning, Yonhap News reported.

The actor, who has had a long career in South Korea dating back to 1999, first gained renown in 2007 as one of the main actors in the medical drama “Behind the White Tower” and in the romantic comedy “Coffee Prince.” In 2018, he played the main male protagonist in the drama “My Mister.”

He gained worldwide fame with his role as Park Dong-ik, a tech titan, in the 2019 movie “Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon Ho. Bong’s movie is the first non-English-language picture to win the Oscar for best picture.

The movie’s cast, including Lee, was praised by reviewers, including Justin Chang of The Times.

“Nearly every great performance is a well-executed con, an elaborate scheme skillfully foisted on the audience,” Chang wrote in 2020. “That’s surely one reason why the ‘Parasite’ actors have connected so forcefully with critics and audiences around the world, even those who may emerge from the theater remembering individual faces better than names.”

Last year, Lee was nominated for best actor at the International Emmy Awards for his performance in the sci-fi thriller “Dr. Brain.”

The police investigation seemed to take a toll on Lee’s career, prompting the actor to drop out of K-drama thriller series “No Way Out,” according to media reports.

Intense questioning over alleged drug abuse is not uncommon in South Korea, a country with strict drug laws and growing public concern over drug abuse.

At the same time as Lee’s drug probe, police were investigating K-pop star G-Dragon, Kwon Ji-yong of the band Big Bang, for alleged use of illicit drugs at a bar in Seoul in December 2022. The case was closed earlier this month after Kwon tested negative in drug tests and police were unable to find enough evidence of drug use.

Kwon announced Monday that he would donate 300 million won, about $230,000, to establish a foundation to combat drug abuse.

Earlier this year, “Hellbound” and “Burning” actor Yoo Ah-in was accused of illegally using drugs including marijuana, propofol and cocaine. He underwent 21 hours of questioning by police in May.

A Seoul court rejected an arrest warrant request by police, after Yoo admitted to most of the drug charges. The highly publicized case led to public opprobrium, including one person hitting him with a plastic water bottle after his May court appearance.

In a statement released to Korean media after Lee’s death, HODU&U Entertainment said, “There is no way to contain our sorrow and despair.

“We respectfully ask that you refrain from spreading falsehoods based on speculations,” the statement read.

Lee is survived by his wife, actor Jeon Hye Jin, and their two sons.

Suicide prevention and crisis counseling resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call 9-8-8. The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline, 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. Text “HOME” to 741741 in the U.S. and Canada to reach the Crisis Text Line.

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