The Actor Who Committed So Many Crimes That He Earned An Infamous Nickname

Despite committing career-ending crimes, he continues to thrive.

Making a career in the Korean entertainment industry is by no means easy. But once you succeed, holding your ground for a long time is even more challenging. Often, all it takes for even the top-most star to completely lose their career is a single controversy. But actor Lee Hyun Woo has somehow managed to shield himself from this phenomenon, time and again.

Lee Hyun Woo | Wikitree

Lee is a well-known singer and actor in Korea. Though born in Seoul, he moved to the U.S. with his parents and became a naturalized American citizen later. Lee made his entertainment debut in 1991 as a singer, and his debut album, Black Rainbow, achieved significant popularity.

He later transitioned into acting and has worked in popular dramas such as Cats on the Roof (2003), Wedding (2005), and Oh! My Lady (2010), as well as the films S Diary (2004), Before the Summer Passes Away (2007), and The Forgotten Bag (2011). He’s still active in the industry, mostly doing T.V. appearances. He was a judge on the popular talent program Mr. Trot Season 2 (2022).

A young Lee Hyun Woo | Hancinema

Despite a decorated resume, Lee is actually better known for surviving one scandal after another, any one of which could be potentially career-ending for many. The actor has earned an infamous nickname, “Grand Hyun Woo,” signifying that he won the Grand Slam for committing crimes.

Lee Hyun Woo’s first big controversy was regarding his use of marijuana. On January 14, 1993, he was arrested for smoking cannabis, considered a serious crime punishable by the law in South Korea. He was released on bail on February 1, after which he returned to the United States. During a later interview, Lee said he wasn’t aware it was a crime in Korea since it was treated like an “open secret” in the U.S. After the incident, Lee was banned from Korean broadcasting for a while until he made a return in November 1993.

In the same year, Lee’s manager was suspected of bribing a producer and a reporter with ₩300,000 KRW (about $226 USD) and ₩1.50 million KRW (about $1,130 USD) respectively. The case was brought to court, and Lee’s manager was investigated based on the suspicion that the bribe and Lee winning the Broadcaster’s Singer Award in 1992 were connected.

However, the timing of his return to the U.S. caused further controversies surrounding alleged military service evasion. The public suspected he returned to the U.S. and entered Korea only after the maximum enlistment age was crossed. However, there are opposing opinions on this. Some pointed out that he never gave up his Korean citizenship to evade military service. Instead, he was a naturalized U.S. citizen from a younger age when he moved there with his parents. So, the accusations remain unfounded.

The biggest controversies of Lee’s career came in 2006 and 2007 when he was involved in two consecutive drunk driving incidents. In 2006, he was caught driving under the influence, but the media did not cover it that much. In 2007, he was found driving under the influence again while making an illegal U-turn. His international driver’s license was also expired, making it a case of unlicensed drunk driving.

DUIs are treated as an even more severe offense than cannabis use in South Korea. The public sees celebrities caught drunk driving in a highly negative light, often making it impossible for them to return to the limelight. But Lee made his broadcasting comeback in 2007 itself. The incident happened in February, and he appeared on SBS next month.

Right after the DUI incidents, Lee bagged a deal with Hyundai and starred in a car commercial for the brand. He also did a commercial for a loan company. Both these projects left a bad taste in the public’s mouth, the former for its timing and the latter for promoting loan sharks. However, these incidents couldn’t put a dent in his career either.

The final controversy involving Lee was that of stock manipulation. In 2008, GBS, a struggling broadcasting company, was suddenly revealed to be acquired by Lee Hyun Woo. The news bumped the company’s stock prices almost immediately. But only ten days later, it was announced that the acquisition had been canceled. As a result, stock prices plunged again, hurting investors quite badly. It was suspected that while the regular investors suffered, the operational forces of the company made a big profit with this incident.

| Hancinema

While these incidents created a notorious reputation for Lee among the public, he survived it all and is still a frequent face to be seen on the screen. That’s why some have also given him the nickname “Phoenix,” while others believe his affluent background has contributed to his flourishing career despite everything else.

Source: Wikitree and Instiz