Byun Hee-bong, a beloved Korean actor known for his roles in multiple films by director Bong Joon Ho, has passed away at the age of 81. His death was attributed to complications from pancreatic cancer, which he had previously battled and received treatment for. The exact details surrounding his demise have not been disclosed.
Born in Jangseon, South Jeolla Province, Byun initially worked in live theater and later became a voice performer for the state TV network MBC in 1966. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared in numerous television series, including “The First Republic” (1981), “The Joseon Dynasty 500 Years: Seouljungmae” (1985), and “The Legendary Doctor Hur Jun” (1999).
Byun’s notable feature film debut came in 2000, when he appeared in Bong Joon Ho’s breakthrough film “Barking Dogs Never Bite.” He also had significant roles in three other films by the acclaimed director: the cult favorite “Memories of Murder” (2003), the box office hit “The Host” (2006), and “Okja” (2017), which marked Netflix’s first Korean film production and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Byun’s portrayal of Hie-bong in “The Host” earned him multiple nominations for Best Supporting Actor, both in Korea and regionally in Asia. He won awards at the Asia Pacific Film Festival and Korea’s Blue Dragon Awards for his performance. Additionally, he was voted the most popular actor in the TV category at the 21st Baeksang Arts Awards for his role in “The Joseon Dynasty 500 Years.”
Although recognized primarily as a character and supporting actor, Byun Hee-bong was widely known for his extensive body of work in television. He continued to have an active career well into his seventies, appearing in popular series such as “Something About 1%” (2003), “My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho” (2010), “Grandpas Over Flowers Investigation Team” (2014-15), and “Pinocchio” (2015).
In recognition of his significant contribution to the development of South Korean pop culture, Byun was awarded the Eungwan Order of Cultural Merit in 2020. This prestigious honor is the nation’s second-highest ranking cultural decoration.
Byun Hee-bong’s passing has left a void in the Korean entertainment industry. His talent, versatility, and long-lasting impact on both film and television will be remembered and cherished by his fans and colleagues. As we bid farewell to this remarkable actor, we celebrate his legacy and the joy he brought to audiences around the world.