A few years ago, actor Lee Sun-kyun had a major role in a film that made history: director Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy thriller Parasite, which racked up multiple Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. It was the first non-English-language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. But now Lee’s life has come to a tragic early end. South Korea’s emergency office has confirmed that Lee has passed away at the age of 48, and it’s suspected that he committed suicide.
As Deadline notes, since October Lee had been “under investigation after drug use allegations amid an ongoing crackdown on illegal drugs by the South Korean government. Local news service Yonhap reported that Lee had been questioned multiple times by authorities, including for 19 hours this past weekend. The actor had said he was tricked into taking drugs.” Lee had been telling the authorities that he accepted drugs he thought were sleeping pills from a bar hostess who was attempting to blackmail him. According to BBC, “Yonhap reported that he was suspected of taking drugs such as marijuana and ketamine with a hostess at a bar in Seoul. He had said that though he took what she gave him, he had not known that they were illicit drugs. The hostess had reportedly told the police that he used drugs at her home multiple times – something he denied. He had earlier requested through his lawyer to take a lie detector test. His drug tests had returned negative or inconclusive results, the report added.”
His family alerted the authorities after he left home, leaving behind a “message akin to a suicide note”. His body was found in a car at a Seoul park.
Born in 1975, Lee graduated from the Korea National University of Arts’ first ever School of Drama class and made his stage acting playing Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show in 2001. His first film, Scent of Love, followed in 2003. Since then, he racked up over 45 more screen acting credits, including the films My Mother, the Mermaid; R-Point, Our Town, Night and Day, Romantic Island, Paju, Oki’s Movie, Petty Romance, The Apprehenders, Helpless, All About My Wife, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, Our Sunhi, A Hard Day, The Advocate: A Missing Body, The King’s Case Note, A Special Lady, Take Point, Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage, 2036 Apocalypse Earth, Mr. Zoo: The Missing VIP, Kingmaker, Killing Romance, Project Silence, Sleep, and of course Parasite, as well as TV shows like Loveholic, Behind the White Tower, The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, Pasta, Golden Time, Miss Korea, My Wife’s Having an Affair This Week, My Mister, Diary of a Prosecutor, Payback, and Dr. Brain.
Lee is survived by his wife and their two children. Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans.