The tragic demise of the "people's actor" followed a series of drug investigations initiated in late October. Lee, along with Kwon Ji-yong, a 35-year-old singer well known by his stage name G-Dragon, was booked by the police on suspicion of using illegal drugs at a private adult entertainment bar in southern Seoul. The law authorities launched the drug probe based solely on statements from a waitress who worked at the bar.
Lee had to face the press photo line every time he entered and exited a police station in the western port city of Incheon, enduring excessive attention. The actor repeatedly apologized for causing public concern and for letting down his fans. While Lee maintained a cautious stance during investigations, former boy band BIGBANG member Kwon displayed a stern and proud demeanor. Eventually, the police failed to find any traces of drugs on the celebrities despite a series of thorough tests using blood and hair samples.
The actor was summoned for the third time on December 23 for an overnight interrogation, even though the drug test results came out negative. Lee applied for a lie detector test through his legal attorney on December 26 to prove his innocence. The actor had expressed that he was being wrongfully investigated and showed skepticism towards the smoking gun for the drug probe which was a statement from a waitress of the adult entertainment bar.
Scores of people -- relatives, fans, and fellow artists -- filled the Seoul National University Hospital Funeral Home in central Seoul on December 28 where Lee's three-day funeral is being held. Towers of flowers lined up along the corridor of the funeral home while visitors busily moved along it to say fare well to the people's actor.
Fans shared memories about the late actor in online communities. People uploaded their favorite scenes and screenshots through posts. They mourned Lee and said that a big star had fallen. Some fans blamed the law authorities, claiming that they conducted the drug probe to put excessive mental pressure on the actor.
Lee debuted in 1999 but was able to step into the spotlight in 2007 when he played main roles in popular dramas -- "Behind the White Tower" and "Coffee Prince." The actor continued to capture the hearts of South Korean fans through various dramas and films such as the 2010 drama "Pasta," the 2012 drama "Golden Time," the 2012 film "Helpless" directed by Byun Young-joo, and the 2014 film "A Hard Day" directed by Kim Sung-hoon. Lee co-starred in the hit drama "My Mister" with singer-actress IU in 2018.
The actor gained global fame in 2020 with the film Parasite when the film won four Academy Awards. He was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023 with films "Sleep" and "Project Silence."
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