K-Pop Boy Band Superstar Jonghyun Dies

Korean pop superstar Kim Jong-hyun died on Monday after an apparent suicide attempt. Better known by his stage name Jonghyun, the lead singer of popular band SHINee leaves behind brokenhearted fans across the world and a legacy of musical excellence. His “breathy vocal colors” were loved all over the world since his band’s debut EP in 2008, and his outspokenness on government policy and LGBT rights made him a public icon. 

On the evening of December 18th, Jonghyun sent several ominous text messages to his sister. The first one said, “Final farewell,” and the second said “I’ve had a hard time. Please let me go and say that I did a good job. This is my last word.” His sister immediately called police, and emergency services found him unconscious in his apartment. Although paramedics performed CPR and rushed him to the hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival.  An official statement from the band’s  management company SM Entertainment says, “Jonghyun loved music more than anybody else and he was an artist who did everything to perform his absolute best on stage. It breaks our heart to have to bring this news to fans who loved Jonghyun so much.”

Authorities are not investigating his death as suspicious, and it is believed that it was a suicide. When authorities entered his apartment, they found burned coal briquettes, a common way to induce carbon monoxide poisoning, in a frying pan in his room. Additionally, fellow artist Jan Hee-yeon (also known as Nine9) received an apparent suicide note from him by text two weeks ago with instructions to post it to social media “if he disappears from the world.”

“I’m broken from inside. The blues that slowly ate at me have finally swallowed me whole. I couldn’t overcome,” the message began. It also references the pressures of his famous life: “Maybe I wasn’t supposed to come up against the world; maybe I wasn’t supposed to be known to the world; I’ve learned that’s what [makes my life] difficult. How come I chose that.” Nine9’s manager confirmed that she had received the text message, and also that she had requested his family’s permission to post it on social media.

South Korea’s suicide rate is notoriously high, one of the highest in the developed world. In recent years, several high-profile business and political officials have killed themselves, sparking a conversation about the epidemic.

K-pop stars, in particular, are subjected to extreme pressure and public scrutiny, their lives and personal decisions heavily controlled by their management agencies. Many K-pop stars are not permitted to have romantic relationships, as their agencies believe it will ruin their “wholesome” image. Actor Park Jin-hee wrote a 2009 paper on celebrity suicide in South Korea where she said that 40% of South Korea’s actors had considered suicide at least once because of a lack of privacy, financial insecurity, and bullying.

“I think our country has very high expectations of celebrities,” said Jung Ming-kyung, one of the many fans who paid their respects to the singer at the hospital where he died. “I came here to say my last farewell … since we fans apparently couldn’t be there for him when he needed help most.”

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