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What Parasite Star Lee Sun-Kyun Did In The Final Week Of His Life

The article contains mentions of suicide

Actor Lee Sun-kyun, best known for his work in the Oscar-winning 2019 drama "Parasite," in addition to numerous other film and television efforts, died on December 27 at the age of 48. He was found inside his car, which was located in a park in central Seoul, South Korea, and it has since come to light that the actor died by suicide. Lee had previously been at the center of a drug use investigation that dates back to October, which, naturally, very much occupied the final week of his life. 

On December 23, Lee was held by police for a roughly 19-hour-long probe into his alleged use of illegal substances, Reuters noted. According to TMZ, that same day, his lawyer requested that enforcement not reveal the details of the investigation to the public. He maintained his innocence throughout, claiming that he'd been tricked into using the substances and had been blackmailed by the one responsible for giving them to him — supposedly a hostess working in Seoul's Gangnam district. As reported by Yonhap News Agency, on December 26, Lee even requested a lie detector test be conducted between himself and the hostess to prove he'd offered nothing but the truth to investigators.

On December 27, at around 10:12 a.m., Lee's manager reportedly informed police that his client "wrote a note that resembled a will and left the house" the previous night, according to TV Chosun. In the note, he allegedly told his wife, fellow actor Jeon Hye-jin, "I can't help it," and "This is the only way," per a separate report from the outlet.

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South Korea's drug crackdown explained: Why Lee Sun-kyun was under investigation

The investigation into Lee Sun-kyun's alleged substance use came as a product of South Korea's strict laws on drug consumption. Months before the actor's death, South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol announced in April that the nation's government was to begin a major crackdown on all crimes relating to drugs. As shared by The Korea Times, Yoon stated during a Cabinet meeting, "The government will join all forces to win the war on drugs" and announced the establishment of an interdisciplinary team of 840 individuals to oversee the effort. The president also explained that harsh investigations and opportunities for rehabilitation were at the core of the initiative. Sure enough, Yoon's war on drugs began to yield results in short order.

In 2023 alone, 17,152 individuals — 1,025 of them being teenagers — were booked for drug-related crimes, according to Yonhap News Agency. The publication highlighted that this is the highest number South Korea has seen in the past five years, and it marks a 38.5% increase compared to 2022's numbers. Between March and November, roughly 2,379 people were formally arrested for drug-related crimes. All of this is to say that Lee wasn't singled out for alleged drug use due to his being a well-known actor. South Korea's legal system doesn't take such crimes lightly, no matter who is charged.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the end of his life, and the events of his final week alive, there's no denying that Lee Sun-kyun was a talented actor with a wealth of solid performances to his credit.