Korean Celebs’ Tragic Endings

Choi Jin-sil

As some of you may already know, early this month, top Korean actress Choi Jin-sil (above) committed suicide by hanging herself at her home in Seoul. She was 39. It was reported that she had suffered from depression since her 2002 separation, and messy divorce two years later, from her pro baseball player husband and was upset by recent rumors (she claimed were false) that she had loaned a large sum of money to an actor friend and was pressuring him to pay it back, which was a reason he committed suicide in early September. I suppose the alcohol she had to drink that evening also helped with her decision to take her own life.

Although Jin-sil’s death shocked many, it wasn’t the first time a high-profile female Korean entertainer has committed suicide in recent years.

Lee Eun-joo
In February 2005, top actress Lee Eun-joo hanged herself at her Seongnam apartment just a few days after she graduated from Dankook University. She was said to be suffering from depression and supposedly regretted some racy nude scenes she had done for her last movie The Scarlet Letter. Ironically, her character committed suicide at the end of that movie. I remember shortly after her death, a lot of video stores in Korea moved all DVD movies starring her to the front shelves. She was 24.

In January 2007, popular singer U;Nee [sic], who was featured here before, committed suicide by hanging herself at her home in Incheon. She had been receiving a rash of harsh comments by netizens about her overtly sexy image, which was believed to be a factor in her decision to end her own life. She had also been taking medication for depression and had just completed her third album Habit, at the time of her death. Her management company went ahead and released it as scheduled. She was 25.

Jung Da-bin
In February 2007, actress Jung Da-bin, who had starred in some very popular TV shows, ended her own life by hanging herself at her boyfriend’s apartment after returning there from having dinner and drinks earlier that evening. She left no note but her final blog entry shortly before her death indicated that she was suffering from depression. She was 26.

Jang Chae-won
Although not as well-know as the above mentioned ladies, transgender entertainer Jang Chae-won killed herself the day after Choi Jin-sil did, in the same manner, in what was believed to be a “copycat” suicide. Her last blog entry read; “I’m sorry mom, I’ll do better next time.” She was 26 and was often referred to as the next Harisu.

South Korea’s suicide rate is the one of the highest among developed countries and it seems that celebrity suicides there have become more common in recent years, with four occurring in just the last two years. Reasons given for this Korean “cultural phenomenon” have ranged all the way from the nation’s rapid economic growth changing the way Koreans regard life, to trauma caused by Internet rumors and written attacks.

My sympathies for the above ladies is limited (especially for Choi Jin-sil, who left her two young children to grow up without a mother) because they were more concerned about escaping their own pain than they were about the pain their deaths would cause their loved ones. As popular and successful as these women were, and showing no tell-tale signs to those close to them, it must now make one wonder if their favorite Korean entertainer could be next.

6-2012 Edit: For all further updates and a complete listing of Korean female celebs who have ended their own lives since this article was shared here, see the original article at Idol Features.

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0 thoughts on “Korean Celebs’ Tragic Endings”

  1. Something must be very wrong over there. Probably similar situation to the northern european countries, where the suicide rate is also very high, despite an overall good life quality.

    It seems these women just weren’t prepared enough for the limelights and nobody was there to help them. It’s sad and says something about society, in that there seems not to be enough structures of support (family, friends, neighbours, etc) to care for people in difficult situations. I dunno the details, though.

  2. I find this post very sad. It’s shocking to think of these beautiful, and talented girls ending their lives at so young an age, with so much ahead.

    CEC: Do you happen to know the statistics for male Korean performers in similar circumstances (putting aside transgender individuals, who have a whole set of other issues to deal with)? Somehow I suspect that this phenomenon is not one affecting performers equally, and hence not just a fact about higher incidence of suicide in Asia (or Europe).

  3. Oh… how sad. I had known of the other celebrities suicide, and was actually quite depressed by Eun-Joo & Da-Bin’s death in particular. But I have been out of the loop and didn’t hear of Choi Jin-sil’s death. I luved her in Legend of Gingko.
    I have much respect for you, CEC, to take the time to write up this post. I am sure many here won’t appreciate it for what it is, and even deem it as a somewhat inappopriate, as it is depressing news and not about asian women as a sexual object of desire… But thankyou once again for posting this CEC.

  4. Agree with URGAL. Traditional gender roles are probably being steamrolled by a Korean society that is sprinting full tilt towards the future. ..fueled by technolust.That “modern woman” thing looks good on paper.The actual practice is clumsy and messy.Best wishes to the families.

  5. Good job CEC. Do note though that it’s not just a celebrity phenomenon. In Korea (and Japan) businessmen who have misfortune – e.g. product failure leading to others’ deaths or injuries or being caught in some form of misconduct – are also likely to take their own life. But this rash of suicides of female celebrities is shocking. Sad to think some of them could have been caused by the ramblings and insults of jealous or bitter fans.

  6. very interesting & informative post (even it s morbid)
    it reminds us that there are not only glamourous images and sexy photos who come from beautiful asian womens/girls.

    drama in everyday life can touch even celebs …

    very sad !

  7. There is still a stigma to the seeking of psychotherapy, even today. For too many, if word got out that one is depressed and getting counseling and perhaps medication, it would be seen by many as shameful and a weakness of character. And especially even more so in places such Korea & Japan.

  8. Out of all the ladies mentioned above I only knew Lee Eun Joo. Saw her in her earlier movies dating back to 2002. When I watched The Scarlett Letter I saw her in nude and involved in sex scene, this is rather shocking for a famous Korean actress to be involved in that scene. The film was made in 2004 and the following year 2005 she committed suicide. My final summary: Korea is still a very conservative society particularly for women, most depressed cases happen to celebrity actress mainly because they are over-exposing themselves and the society in general are not ready to accept that.

  9. hanging seems like a pretty rough way to go. I wonder why it seems so prevalent in these cases. I dont know the stats but I dont think most women choose hanging when they choose to commit suicide. sad story. kinda takes the lead out of the pencil. maybe its a reminder to do something other than lust after asian girls. life is short.

  10. Life too short to lust after Asian girls? Heresy! That is one of the things that makes life worth living!

    Yes it’s kind of shocking. Women tend to prefer pills. More violent means such as guns and hanging tend to be preferred by men. Guess they wanted to do something dramatic to make a point, maybe to get back at someone they feel who let them down. Hard to say.

  11. South Korea has the highest suicide rate of developed countries? I always thought Iceland got that distinction.

  12. i think sometimes some actresses actually think it is glamourous to die young….but hanging is not common for women…most use pills or nonviolent means

  13. Damn! Two of my favorite Korean drama leading actresses are among these!

    I enjoyed Lee Eun-Ju in The Phoenix. She was very pretty, which is one reason I watched it. Although the story was formulaic, the execution of the series was really good.

    I’m even more upset about Jung Da-Bin, though. I fell in “love” with her in Roof-top Room Cats (a.k.a. Attic Cats). I thought she was incredibly cute, and to learn that she killed herself is very sad.

    And yes, I am a sappy romantic at heart who watches these kinds of shows. So sue me. πŸ˜›

  14. People are only looking at the overall suicide figures, and failing to notice the key part of them: the ratio of males to females. In most countries, males dominate. But in the Asian countries, females dominate. Why? Sexual suppression. Women really cop it in Asia for being overtly sexual, so this is naturally a huge problem for female celebrities – hence this tragic story. Interestingly, the one Asian country where far more men than women commit suicide is Japan, as they are far less sexually supressed. Sexual supression literally kills.

  15. in Japan & South korea women are not equal than men (not like western countries)

    it can causes many pressure and stress !

    Men dominates the women
    korean men are really macho and japanese men are proud and do not women task…
    Over consummering can be bad thing.
    and sometimes a drama (japanese & korea term for “soap”) become a reality…

  16. Kind of a catch-22 for the Korean women isn’t it!? The society wants these women to look beautiful and sexy, and yet when they do, they get criticized for being so. It’s a pity, cause in some cases, I think they’re even more beautiful than their Japanese counterparts.

    BTW, is hanging the norm for women in Korea committing suicide? Just seems like an inordinately high number of hanging suicides. Coincidence or what?

  17. CEC, thank you for posting. I have been keeping track of all of these suicides among Korean pop culture icons lately, and it’s so sad. I really hope no more go, I actually cried a bit when 이언 died from a motorcycle crash a little while back, he was awesome. :'(

  18. i think some people are missing the point. in korean entertainment, celebs take the harsh comments from netizens to heart. rumors in korea can kill your career, and in some sad cases kill you in the end. it has nothing to with sexual suppression. some people are just talking out of their butts. korea has a problem with suicides. it get worse when celebs do it and it does have a impact on the masses over. the people of korea follow like drones what ever celebs do over there. it’s a society driven by fashion, wealth, status and following of some sorts. one star says he hates the us army, everyone hates the us army!! if they have a certain clothing, they got to have it. new hair do, same thing. several stars kill themselves… well you get the idea. it’s sad but the unfortunate truth. something got to be done to stop this.

  19. jdrevenge @: i heard about his death. don’t know about that one. i driven with buddies over the same area he droved and i don’t know. something doesn’t add up.

  20. One of the horrible ironies of depression medecine is that it can lead to a higher rate of sucide. Not to get too off track but I’ve wondered how this is so for a while now knowing people that have taken it and I have fond two things. 1. Is that they don’t take it as they should, it often makes them feel tired when they don’t need to be, 2. Perhaps a side effect of 1, is that they start to rationalize their feelings “Is it me or is it the pill”. They often also start to feel as though they aren’t really happy the medicine makes them that way which leads to a greater loss of self worth and control.

    I don’t know enough about these people, stories, places, lifestyle and society to make anymore comments but I bet it all played a roll and perhaps something simple could be done to help prevent it. Its a shame really if nothing is being done, not because they are famous but because they are human.

  21. This alleged depression medication link to higher suicide risk is highly suspect. These meds are relatively low risk for the vast majority who take them. The unfortunate unintended consequence of the “suicide scare” for these meds is that people have instead gone on powerful anti-psychotics, which are far more dangerous and have more widespread common harmful side effects from longterm use. That being said, there are plenty of drug-free “talk” therapies that have been proven to be at least or even more effective for most people. But there’s a great stigma of shame to seek therapy, especially in east Asia. And suicide is seen by many as an acceptable, even honorable solution to what could very well be a temporary and curable problem, particularly if one is bringing shame and inconvenience on the family.

  22. depression is serious .. i feel like people (specially in the Asian community) are ashamed to talk about it .. and they refuse to get help =/

    thanks for the post

  23. One more point: the ratio of people with depression for whom meds have prevented them from harming themselves or others to those for whom it has “caused” their suicide is several million to a handful. I know many who credit meds and therapy with saving their lives.

    Darned right it’s serious. I know a Japanese woman who is brilliant, talented, pretty, has so much going for her, yet suffers from serious ongoing depression and panic attacks. She adamantly refuses help of any kind, insisting that she can work it out on her own. Rarely does it just go away. And I fear it will ultimately kill her, either actively or passively.

  24. @urgal: I’d say the suicide rate among male Korean celebs is slightly lower just going by the news I’ve read. However, since I posted this entry, there have been two more male Korean celebs who have taken their own lives. No more female celebs….yet.

    @notofuspeed: Thank you and you’re quite welcome. Your appreciation is the biggest thanks I can get.

    @jdrevenge & seoul86: Yes, I actually know the place where Lee Eon lost control of his motorcycle and crashed, too. Not far from where I used to live, and that area of road would be a little tricky for an inexperienced rider…. especially one who was returning late from a wrap-up party and going faster than he should have been.

    Korean celeb suicides are sort of like earthquakes in California….you know one’s going to happen, you just don’t know when and are still surprised when it does.

  25. Jang Ja-yeon’s status as the latest Korean celebrity to end her own life didn’t last long. Woo Seung-yeon, who began as a model and had just started her acting carreer, was found dead at her home in Seoul on Monday evening, the 27th. She had hanged herself.

    Her family said she was under stress from auditions she was going on and suffering from depression. It was reported that she stated in her brief suicide note in her diary, “I love my family” and “I’m sorry to go so soon.” According to her bio and not Korean news reports, she was just one month shy of her 24th birthday.
    The only article I could find on this in English so far, is here.

  26. Top fashion model Daul Kim was found dead in her Paris apartment yesterday morning. No official cause of death has been released yet but sources close to her say it was suicide. Read it here.

  27. Thanks Cec I thought it would be here somewhere. It really is sad that suicide seems a popular choice amongst Koreans.

  28. At first, I wasn’t going to post this here, as it’s not about a female celeb, but it’s related, so….the brother of Choi Jin-sil (the actress whose suicide prompted me to write this entry) recently comitted suicide in the same manner his sister did 18 months ago. Read about it here.

  29. Actress Han Chae-won took her own life back in August of this year but news on the reasons why weren’t reported until just last month. She was 26 according to some sources, 31 according to others. Like all the other ladies, she hanged herself. More here.

  30. Does anybody know what the stats are for suicide amongst Korean female celebrities relative to young Korean females in general? It could give us some insight into this tragic phenomenon.

  31. @Dr. Lee – In order to determine that, we’d have to take the female population of Korea, determine the criteria for being a celebrity, take out those who would be considered celebs, look at the number of suicides within the two groups (celebs and non-celebs) and figure the percentages. To my knowledge, such a study hasn’t been done but I would guess the female suicide rate in South Korea (which has the highest rate of all OECD countries) is higher among non-celebs.

  32. It would appear the suicide rate amongst the general female population is 0.0187% – subjectively, the percentage seems higher amongst celebrities, or at the very least comparable. I wonder what it is about Korean women that drives them to this? Are they poorly treated by men? Are they more inherently emotional? Is the westernisation of South Korea creating particular issues for them (the conflict of old vs. new standards)?

  33. Seems that a full year can’t pass without adding another name to this list. The latest was newcomer actress Jung Ayul. Read about it here. For a more concise listing of Korean female celebs who have ended their own lives since I shared this piece here, see my original article here.

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