Lee Sun-kyun, the acclaimed South Korean actor known for his leading role in the Oscar-winning film “Parasite”, was found dead in Seoul on December 27th, 2023. He was 48 years old. Lee’s death comes amid a controversial probe into allegations of drug use.
Circumstances Surrounding Actor’s Death
According to South Korean police, Lee’s wife found him unconscious at their home and he was later pronounced dead at the hospital. The exact cause of his death has not been released, but police have not ruled out suicide.
Just one day before his death, Lee was questioned by police about allegations that he had purchased and used illegal narcotics. A woman had gone to the media claiming she had evidence Lee had smoked marijuana multiple times with her. She was demanding he pay over $800,000 or she would release a video allegedly showing him smoking marijuana.
Police revealed that Lee had strongly denied the allegations against him and no evidence had been found connecting him to drug use. He had voluntarily submitted to a drug test which came back negative. However, his roles were still impacted.
Backlash and Canceled Projects
In the weeks leading up to his death, Lee had been dropped from multiple upcoming film and endorsement projects due to the controversy surrounding the allegations.
He was set to star in the Korean adaptation of the popular American series “Suits”, but was cut from the project in early December. Several other films and endorsement deals also severed ties.
This greatly impacted Lee financially. In a farewell letter left to his wife, he cited the loss of income from the canceled deals as a source of intense stress.
|Estimated Lost Income
|December 8, 2023
|Endorsement Deal 1
|December 15, 2023
|Endorsement Deal 2
|December 20, 2023
All together, Lee lost out on over $800,000 in expected income from dropped projects over the three weeks preceding his death. This was likely a major factor in his mindset during his final days.
Lee’s Final Requests Rebuffed
In another revelation, South Korean media reported that Lee had made pleas to the police to handle the investigation privately in the days before he died. However, these requests were denied.
Lee had asked the police not to make the ongoing investigation public out of concern for the impact it could have on his family and career before the truth came out. Tragically, the police moved forward with a public probe, subjecting Lee intense public scrutiny during his final days.
The denial of his requests demonstrated a lack of care and forethought by authorities regarding the potential consequences of making unproven allegations so public. Many Koreans have expressed outrage at the police’s handling of the case.
Outpouring of Grief from Colleagues and Fans
The shocking news of Lee’s untimely death was met with an immense outpouring of grief from friends, colleagues, and fans across South Korea and internationally.
Fellow prominent South Korean actors and filmmakers, including “Parasite” director Bong Joon-Ho and co-star Song Kang-ho, mourned the loss of an exceptionally talented peer taken too soon.
Global fans of his work also took to social media to share memories of his iconic performances and lament the tragic end to a promising career at its peak.
On December 28th, hundreds gathered at Asan Medical Center funeral hall to pay their final respects in an emotional farewell ceremony. Attendees included major industry figures as well as heartbroken admirers of Lee’s work.
What Comes Next?
In the aftermath of this devastating loss, difficult questions are being raised regarding the culture of South Korea’s entertainment world and issues like mental health, privacy, and drug policy.
There is increased scrutiny on the common practice of “blackmail brokerage” – blackmailers threatening to release compromising information to force monetary settlements from celebrities. Critics demand reform, arguing this system enables exploitation without accountability. They say it likely contributed to Lee’s desperation in his final days.
Others point to the intense pressures within Korea’s high-demand entertainment industry, the lack of open discussion about mental health issues, and the outsized public condemnation celebrities face from scandal – often before any facts are proven.
Lee’s case further highlights the complexity around drug policies, which fail to provide proportional punishment and enable avenues for malicious exploitation.
As loved ones and fans continue grieving Lee’s shocking loss, his death will have a lasting impact prompting calls for meaningful changes to protect others in the future. The tragedy of his story will touch many lives for years to come.
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