Lee Deok-hwa began acting in the early 1970s. In 1987, he was awarded the Daesang at the MBC Drama Awards for Love and Ambition. In 1988, he took home the Best Actor trophy at the 24th Baeksang Arts Awards for the film You My Yellow Rose. It was followed by another Best Actor win at the 27th Chunsa Film Art Awards for his work in the 1989 movie Lost Love. In 1991, he starred in the film Fly High Run Far, which was named Best Film at the 30th Grand Bell Awards. He also won several Best Actor citations for his work in the movie. In 1993, he led the historical drama film I Will Survive, which earned him the Best Actor trophy at the 18th Moscow International Film Festival. In 1994, he bagged a Top Excellence Award at the KBS Drama Awards for the sageuk Han Myung-hoe. In 2007, he received another Top Excellence Award at the KBS Drama Awards for the sageuk Dae Jo Yeong. In 2012, he collected acting trophies at the MBC and SBS Drama Awards for May Queen and History of the Salaryman, respectively.
Lee Deok-hwa’s father is the late movie star Lee Ye-chun. They starred together in the 1975 horror film The Man with Two Faces. His daughter Lee Ji-hyun also works as an actress. In 1996, he ran for Congress but lost.