Parasite Actor Lee Sun-kyun Dead at 48

Actor Lee Sun-kyun, known internationally for his work in 2019's Parasite, has died at the age of 48 in Seoul, South Korea.

By Hayley Santaflorentina Dec 27, 2023 3:02 PMTags
Watch: ‘Parasite’ Actor Lee Sun-kyun Dead at Age 48

The international acting community is mourning a painful loss. 

Lee Sun-kyun, who starred in the Academy Award-winning film Parasite, has died, South Korean police confirmed to NBC News. He was 48.

Police told the outlet that Lee was found dead in a parked car in Seoul on Dec. 27 with a charcoal briquette in the passenger seat. Law enforcement started looking for the actor when his manager reported Lee had left home after writing what appeared to be a suicide note. 

The actor, per the Associated Press, had been under investigation by police over the last few weeks for alleged use of illegal drugs, however Lee had maintained his innocence. 

His management company, HODU&U Entertainment, shared a statement with ABC News that read, "There's no way to contain sorrow and despair," asking that the public "refrain from spreading false facts based on speculation and malicious reports so that the deceased's final journey will not be unfair."

In addition to sharing that there are plans for a private funeral for friends and colleagues, the statement concluded with, "We express our deepest condolences on the deceased's final journey."

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Born in 1975, Lee studied acting at the Korea National University of Arts before making his official professional debut in a 1999 music video. Ahead of his work in Parasite, he became a household name in Korean film and television after starring in the 2007 dramas Coffee Prince and Behind the White Tower, as well as in the 2010 romantic comedy series Pasta, the 2012 thriller Helpless and the 2018 psychological drama My Mister.

Barry Brecheisen / Contributor (Getty Images)

But it was Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, in which Lee played patriarch of the wealthy Park family, that brought the actor international acclaim. The film ultimately won four Academy Awards at the 2020 ceremony, including Best Picture (for which it was the first non-English language film to win in the category), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. Parasite's onscreen ensemble also earned the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. 

The following year Lee starred in Apple TV+'s sci-fi thrilled Dr. Brain, the first Korean-language show produced for the streaming service. His work in the series earned Lee a nomination for best actor at the international Emmy awards.

It was Parasite's unanticipated accolades, however, that stayed with the actor in the years to come. 

"When all the nominations came out," he told in October of the film's Oscar nominations, "I expected that director Boon Joon-ho could win, but I never thought we had a chance at Best Picture. So when our director won, we thought the day was over. You cannot imagine how surprised and excited we were when they called the film for Best Picture. I'll never forget it."

Lee is survived by his wife Jeon Hye-jin and two sons.

(NBC News and E! News are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

If you or someone you know needs help, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.