- By Kelly Ng and Jake Kwon
- in Singapore and Seoul
South Korean actor Lee Sun-kyun, best known for his role in the Oscar-winning film Parasite, has been found dead in an apparent suicide in central Seoul.
Police found the body of the 48-year-old actor in a car near a city park on Wednesday. They believe Lee committed suicide, Yonhap news agency reports.
Police earlier said they received a report that he left his home after writing a note.
He had been under investigation for alleged illegal drug use since October.
Lee’s body was taken to Seoul National University Hospital after police located his car near Waryong Park. His family reportedly refused an autopsy and he will be buried on Friday.
Police have launched an investigation to establish the details of his death, including his arrival at the scene where his body was found and the time of his death.
In Parasite, Lee plays the patriarch of the wealthy Park family, infiltrated by members of a poor family posing as unrelated individuals. The vicious social satire won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Yonhap reported that he was suspected of using drugs such as marijuana and ketamine with a hostess at a Seoul bar. He said that even though he took what she gave him, he didn’t know they were illegal drugs.
The hostess allegedly told police that he had used drugs on several occasions at her home, which he denied. He had previously requested through his lawyer to take a lie detector test.
His drug tests returned negative or inconclusive results, the report added.
Police said they regretted that Lee died amid the investigation, but that the investigation was “conducted with (his) consent,” News1 Korea reported. Lee underwent three rounds of interrogation, including a session last Saturday that lasted 19 hours, according to Yonhap.
Lee’s agency, HODU&U Entertainment, said in a statement: “There is no way to contain the grief and despair. We respectfully request that you refrain from spreading false information based on speculation… so that (Lee’s) final journey will not be unjust.”
The news of his death sparked strong reactions on the Internet.
“I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been for him. Rest in peace,” read a comment in one of the reports.
“Aren’t celebrities human? People can make mistakes in their lives. It’s so sad,” said another.
There was also praise for his work.
One fan, writing on X (formerly Twitter), wrote: “I laughed and cried a lot watching your game. Thank you.”
The actor, married to actress Jeon Hye-jin and father of two young sons, has had a career spanning more than two decades.
He has played the lead role in dozens of films and TV shows, becoming a household name throughout the 2010s.
He gained international fame with Parasite, which became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
In South Korea, celebrities are held to high standards of decorum.
Lee had an impeccable image as a family man before his alleged drug use, but the reports that emerged from the investigation have significantly damaged his reputation.
Speaking to reporters in late October before heading to the police station for questioning, he said: “I sincerely apologize for causing great disappointment to many people by being involved in such an unpleasant incident.
“I’m sorry for my family, who are going through such difficult pain right now.”
Lee was dropped from No Way Out, a mystery TV series that began filming in October. According to reports, some businesses were seen removing posters and advertisements featuring Lee from their stores.
Drug crimes, including those involving marijuana use, are considered serious crimes in South Korea. Marijuana use is punishable by prison sentences of up to five years.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has vowed to fight drugs. This year, the country’s authorities expanded their drug crimes department and the national police chief promised “total war” against drug crimes.
Lee is not the only South Korean celebrity to be recently investigated for drug use. Earlier this month, K-pop star G-Dragon was cleared of drug allegations after weeks of investigation.
Actor Yoo Ah-in is currently on trial for drug use.
Additional reporting by Fan Wang
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