SEOUL (NYTIMES) - The recent deaths of two celebrities in South Korea have once again turned the spotlight on the country's entertainment industry, which has faced a reckoning over the mental health burden on its glamorous stars.
South Korean actress Song Yoo-jung, 26, was found dead in Seoul on Saturday (Jan 23), while rapper Iron, 29, was pronounced dead in a hospital on Monday after he was found lying unconscious outside an apartment in Seoul.
The death of Song, who appeared in several television dramas, was confirmed in a statement by the company that represented her, Sublime Artist Agency. The agency did not disclose the cause, but the suddenness of her death brought to mind the series of suicides that has plagued South Korean pop music in recent years.
Alarms have long been raised over the pressures imposed by South Korean management companies on young entertainers, many of whom are groomed starting as teenagers to be pop idols.
Their looks are closely scrutinised, and their tightly choreographed lives are often broadcast on social-media platforms that expose them to both adulatory fan mail and hateful comments.
For many, their time in the limelight is limited, if they ever reach star status. By their late 20s, some are considered replaceable.
A number of the K-pop stars who have taken their own lives spoke of struggles with their mental health and the toll of cyberbullying. Song, an up-and-coming actress, had not mentioned publicly any such issues.
Song began her acting career at 20 and appeared in commercials for Estee Lauder skin care products and for the ice-cream chain Baskin-Robbins.
In her breakout role in 2019, she played a fresh-faced architecture student with a pixie cut, searching for her soul mate, in a web series called Dear My Name. She also acted in music videos.
Iron, whose real name is Jung Hun-cheol, rose to fame after taking part in the third season of rap competition Show Me The Money in 2014. He made headlines in December after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his roommate with a baseball bat.
The problem of suicide in South Korea is not restricted to the entertainment industry. The country has the highest suicide rate among the 37 developed nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But celebrity suicides, involving actors and others, have been a fixture in the South Korean news media over the past decade or more. In recent years, attention has fallen most sharply on deaths in the K-pop industry, one of the country's most successful cultural exports.
In 2017, singer Kim Jong-hyun killed himself at 27 after leaving a note saying that he had been overcome by depression.
In 2019, Sulli, a 25-year-old K-pop star, took her own life after she had complained about the relentless cyberbullying she faced upon joining a feminist campaign that advocated not wearing bras.
About six weeks later, her friend Goo Hara, 28, also killed herself, leaving a handwritten note about her despair.
Goo had tried to reason with online critics, asking them to refrain from vicious comments.
"Public entertainers like myself don't have it easy - we have our private lives more scrutinised than anyone else and we suffer the kind of pain we cannot even discuss with our family and friends," she wrote.
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