With K-pop idol and Astro member Moonbin passing away in what is in official jargon a case in taking one’s own life, we take a look at some of the prominent South Korean celebrities who have taken the same route through the years-
Lee Eun-ju was fast rising as a young star in the hugely evolving South Korean entertainment industry when she passed away at the age of 24. Beginning as a model and later moving on to acting, Eun-ju had starred in hit films like Taegukgi and The Scarlet Letter. She started out in 1999 and after some six years in the industry decided to end her life. Her death on the night of 22nd February, 2005 came only some days after she had graduated. The promising actress had reportedly slit her wrists before hanging herself while leaving a suicide note scrawled in blood. Everything from depression to mental illness has been suspected as the reason for the move, even when her family blamed the nude scenes that she performed in her last feature The Scarlet Letter as giving her sleepless nights and eventually leading to her death.
Singer U;Nee too had been steadily making her way to the top of the charts as an emerging artiste when she passed away in 2007. Her debut in 2003 as a dance-pop singer soon gave way to a more sexy image of U;Nee with her second and most popular release that came a couple of years later. The following year even saw her being marketed internationally by her record label even when she completed also what would be her third and final album which would be released after her death. Having experienced a difficult childhood in being born to an unwed mother, U;Nee however had been doing well in her later life even though she did mention of loneliness. The cause of her death by hanging has been ascertained as one driven by depression and stress, even as speculation ruled large of the generally soft spoken idol succumbing to the backlash she faced on account of a transitioned image.
Choi Jin-sil had already earned repute as being one of the best South Korean actresses even when her background had never been one of more favourable denotation. Her parents separated when she was still in school and Jin-sil had seen abject poverty in her youth. In fact so longdrawn was the extent of her childhood experience that even when she commanded the money as a high paying model and actress she still could not really let go the frugality ingrained in her nature.
The talent that Choi Jin-sil had was remarkable though and she gained stardom even when she was just beginning as an advertising firm model. Thereafter she ventured into films and impressed enough with her acting skills to be dubbed The Nation’s Actress. She went on to star in numerous dramas and movies over the course of a hugely successful two decade long career but it was her personal life that seemed to have undone the celebrated actress.
Choi Jin-sil’s marital life had been a case of abuse and violence by her husband, from whom she separated after some four years of marriage during which she gave birth to a son and a daughter. The continuous conflict with her husband that saw matters turn up in court had earned Choi unwarranted scrutiny but what proved to be particularly unsettling was the lack of support she faced in voicing her experiences as being a victim of domestic violence.
For all her resilience though, the maliciousness directed to her in the aftermath of a public disclosing of her bruises as well as a not so favourable social status in being a single, working divorced mother and also her rumoured involvement in the suicide of close friend and fellow actor Ahn Jae-Hwan meant that Jin-sil was subject to an enormous amount of stress that would prove to be too much to bear. She died by suicide on 2nd October, 2008 by hanging herself at the age of 39.
While Choi Jin-sil’s death would be one of the most prominent such cases of celebrity suicide in South Korea, there also would be another striking narrative unfurling through that episode of unfortunate occurring. It perhaps was a draw upon her image as one of the most loved cinematic personalities of the nation or even a more personal drawing upon her life that Jin-sil’s suicide spurred a series of similar copycat suicides in the years that followed. Her singer-actor brother Choi Jin-Young who was noticeably affected by her death died in 2010 as did her former husband in 2013. The immediate effects would be no less staggerring, that which reportedly caused a temporary 70% increase in suicide cases in the country for about a month after her death.
More explicit in its happening would be the death of 29 year old Jang Ja-yeon in 2009. The issue of what cause her death has been a matter of contention since, with a reinvestigation ordered almost a decade after the incident. Debuting in 2006 with a television commercial and emerging hence as an actress, even when none of her films would see release in her lifetime, Ja-yeon’s suicide sparked quite a scandal with her suicide note alleging sexual exploitation and violation by many prominent names in the industry. The probe has since then occurred as a stretched affair with numerous rumours and controversies surrounding the claims as well as the death itself. And while the proceedings have not really emerged as complete as to who or what actually instigated the clinically depressed young actor to hang herself, the brutally stark truth of life in this expanse of the industry has since been depicted in the 2013 film Norigae.
2009 also saw the death of another young South Korean model- actor Woo Seung-yeon by suicide. An aspiring actress who had been under stress due to a number of failed auditions and was undergoing treatment for depression, Woo hanged herself to death at her home in Seoul.
Even younger was supermodel Daul Kim when she died by suicide at the age of 20. An international presence who had graced the covers of many reputed fashion magazines and walked at as reputed fashion shows, the 2008 Model of the Year was regularly sought by some of the world’s top designers. Daul had been at the prime of her career at the time of her death in 2009. It was both personal and work stress that she was grappling with and the artiste who also identified as a painter and a blogger had previously written about how overworked and tired she felt. She was discovered dead at her luxurious apartment in Paris just some few years after shifting base to the city, even as she suffered all the while from loneliness, insomnia and depression and felt frustrated with the pressing demands of the fashion industry.
Actor- singer Park Yong-ha who amassed popularity even outside his talent by virtue of his good looks too died by suicide in 2010. He was particularly well received in Japan but despite his success as an idol was stressed by concerns of both personal and professional occurring at the time of his death.
Kim Jong-hyun was one of the best vocalists of South Korea even as he boasted also a greater profile as singer-songwriter, record producer, radio host, and author. He dazzled both as part of a boy band as well as in his solo capacity later on and had been professionally active right up to his death in 2017. With his first EP album peaking at number one on the Billboard World Albums Chart, the artiste mononymously known as Jonghyun further asserted his musical prowess even as he received special praise for the artistic control that he exercised in a setup largely dictated by management companies and labels.
His musical style also was unique itself in its writing and composing. The ‘revolutionary’ artiste that Kim Jong-hyun was found also translation in the period after his death, that which helped open up discussions about the ultra competitive nature of the entertainment business in South Korea, as well as about the mental health concerns increasingly emerging in such context.
The most Googled name in her home country in 2017 and recognized as a prominent figure in Korean popular culture for her outspoken and unconventional personality, actress- singer Choi Jin Ri better known as Sulli’s death in 2019 sparked quite an outbreak. Debuting as a child artiste and subsequently displaying her talent in music and acting and modelling even as she excelled also as an artist, Sulli however was particularly affected by the malicious comments continually directed to her romantic relationship with another musician. She even spoke out against cyberbullying but the youngster who had suffered from panic disorder and social phobia earlier in life and also experienced depression later, all of which have been speculated as leading to her untimely death as a 25 year old.
Close on the heels of Sulli’s death was a similar account of fatality that claimed the life of her close friend and pop singer- actress Goo Hara. The reason for her suicide was more ‘definite’ in that it probably entailed due to threats by her ex-boyfriend of making public some videos of their private moments. Hara’s death brought global attention to the sexual crimes that prevailed largely against South Korean women but it also served another cause of what begun as a personal claim. With her estranged mother laying claim to the assets of Goo Hara after her death, the Goo Hara Act was passed one and a half year later after her death. It was at the insistence of her elder brother Goo Ho-in that the Act was tabled and finally realised making the then 28 year old’s death a case indelible in both its stirring the public conscience and the familial setup.
The latest Kpop suicide that has shook not just the nation but the entire world is that of Astro member Moon Bin. A 25 year old singer, dancer, actor and model who debuted as a child artiste, Moon Bin’s death followed the suicide of another young actress Jung Chae-yull just a week earlier. The reason behind his death is yet to be ascertained but this yet another of the numerous accounts of unnatural deaths plaguing the South Korean entertainment arena in particular has only left fans and followers even more alarmed and anguished.