Photo: Funeral photo of Lee Seon-gyun. Credit: Facebook page of Jeong U-seong.
On December 27, 2023, actor Lee Seon-gyun 이선균 was found dead in a car in a parking lot in an apparent suicide. The international star, known best for his role in Oscar-winning movie Parasite 기생충 and top Korean drama My Mister 나의 아저씨, had been subject to police investigation and media scrutiny since October for alleged drug use. The media further scandalized the charges against Lee by latching onto the fact that Lee, who was married, apparently used drugs with his mistress who is a sex worker.
Lee had claimed innocence, arguing his mistress gave him the drugs and that he did not know they were illegal. Nevertheless, in conjunction with the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration’s crackdown on drugs, Lee’s case turned into a life-ruining media circus. (See previous coverage, “South Korea’s Own War on Drugs.”) Even major television news such as KBS News aired recordings of conversations between Lee and his mistress, appearing to implicate him in knowingly using drugs.
Lee’s death provoked criticism of South Korea’s media environment, as well as a law enforcement establishment that strategically leaks confidential information from criminal investigations to create a public spectacle before any guilt is established in court.