Seoul, South Korea – Fans and the Korean entertainment industry are in mourning following the sudden and tragic death of acclaimed actor Lee Sun-kyun. Lee, best known for his leading role in the Oscar-winning film Parasite, was found dead in his car on Wednesday at the age of 48.
Police sources have reported that Lee’s wife discovered his body inside a vehicle parked at a park in Seoul. She had been unable to contact him and grew concerned after finding what appeared to be a suicide note he had left behind. No official cause of death has been determined, but early indications suggest Lee may have taken his own life.
Those close to the actor say he had been going through immense personal struggles in recent months. Lee had come under investigation by authorities over allegations of illegal drug use, a crime that carries severe consequences in South Korea. According to local reports, police had questioned Lee on three separate occasions – including an intensive 19 hour interrogation last weekend – about his involvement with marijuana and other psychoactive substances.
It’s believed Lee may have struggled with substance abuse issues. He reportedly told investigators that on multiple occasions earlier this year he visited popular nightlife areas in Seoul where he was unwittingly given drugs by a female acquaintance, who then tried to blackmail him over the incidents. Facing a very real prospect of criminal charges and prison time, the stress seems to have overwhelmed Lee.
In his nearly 20 year career across film, television and theater, Lee built a reputation as one of South Korea’s most talented and respected actors. Some of his most memorable roles included the patriarch of the wealthy family in Bong Joon Ho’s award-winning film Parasite. He played the kind but misguided father with gentle nuance, helping elevate the movie to global success.
Lee was also brilliant in several popular Korean dramas. In hit shows like Coffee Prince and Miss Korea, he brought funny and deeply moving performances to relatable characters. More recently, American audiences got to know Lee’s talents through the Apple TV+ sci-fi drama Dr. Brain, where he delivered a compelling lead performance as a neuroscientist seeking answers.
Tributes have poured in from those who knew and worked with Lee. Fellow actors praised his consummate professionalism and warm, humble personality. Directors celebrated his insightful artistic abilities, saying he brought an unmatched intelligence and humanity to every role. Lee leaves behind a vast body of meaningful work that will ensure he remains one of Korea’s most celebrated dramatic talents.
At only 48 years old, Lee Sun-kyun had many more award-winning performances seemingly ahead of him. But the personal demons he faced, apparently relating to struggles with substance abuse and legal troubles, prove that even the most talented among us can succumb to inner darkness. Lee’s tragic death is a loss not only for fans worldwide, but also a reminder that mental health issues can impact anyone, regardless of fame or success. He will be deeply missed.