K-Pop Stars Who Died Way Too Young

The following article includes mentions of suicide, mental health issues, and domestic abuse allegations.

The world of K-pop isn't always kind to its young stars. While appearing in a popular South Korean music group can rocket performers to celebrity status in Asia and beyond, the road to stardom is notoriously difficult, with aspiring performers signing their childhood and teenage years away to train with management groups in hopes of landing a coveted spot in a boy or girl group. Add the punishing body image standards and social media hate often heaped on young singers, and it's no wonder that K-pop is sometimes branded as a "toxic" environment for its stars.

From freak accidents to heartbreaking, self-inflicted deaths, many K-pop stars have tragically died before their time, with a string of suicides in 2019 drawing international attention to the well-being of the genre's biggest names. With several K-pop performers announcing hiatuses due to mental health concerns by the following year, perhaps things are changing in the once-merciless music community. In June 2020, Bang Si-hyuk, the founder of the internationally-beloved boy band BTS, announced his commitment to "do [his] best as a producer who manages the mental health of the participants rather than know-how or skills." 

One thing is for sure: enough K-pop stars have sadly died for the industry to take notice. These are some of the most tragic losses of young talents in K-pop.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

K-pop star U-Nee hid her stress from loved ones

The South Korean singer and actress Lee Hye-ryeon, who also performed under the name U-Nee, tragically died in late January 2007 after she was found hanged in her Seo-gu, Incheon apartment, per The Star. She was 26. While her death was ruled an apparent suicide, police said (via The Chosunilbo) that U-Nee did not leave a note or will. Authorities also stated that those close to U-Nee had claimed that she appeared to be dealing with depression and had possibly been affected by online criticism. However, the K-pop star was allegedly able to hide her stress, so that even her family didn't know the extent to which she was struggling. 

U-Nee's personal website also featured a posting that was dated before her death, which read, "I feel everything is empty. I am again walking down a path to reach a destination that I don't know." The artist, who first found fame as an actress, eventually expanded into music in the early 2000s. U-Nee's third album, "Honey," was scheduled to be released the month after she died. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Kim Ha Neul (a.k.a. Rottyful Sky) lost consciousness and never woke up

K-pop star Kim Ha Neul was only 25 when she died, but she was already a veteran of the industry by that point. A 14-year-old debutante, she dropped her well-received first song, "Funny," way back in 2001. When she reached her mid-20s, she decided to reinvent herself and started going by Rottyful Sky, a name that fans of popular K-drama "Scent of a Woman" will no doubt be familiar with — her song, "Blue Bird," featured on the soundtrack and was a big hit that became synonymous with the show.

She went on to have success with songs like "No Way" and "Get Away," but her career was cut tragically short soon after the release of the latter single. The singer-songwriter died at the Catholic University of Korea Seoul St. Mary's Hospital in 2013, with initial reports claiming a brain tumor was to blame. Her agency addressed these rumors in a statement (via Yahoo! Style), giving a detailed breakdown of the idol's final days.

According to an agency rep, Kim Ha Neul "visited the hospital after not feeling good [and] was given basic treatment." She was sent home and prescribed rest, but she lost consciousness the following day. "During her transfer to the hospital, she stopped breathing and was given CPR two times," the rep explained. "She was unable to gain consciousness... Her family stated that a brain tumor wasn't the cause of death like the media has been reporting."

EunB and RiSe died in a tragic bus accident

In a heartbreaking double tragedy that decimated the South Korean group Ladies' Code, two members of the troupe, 23-year-old Kwon Ri-sae (picture, left) and 21-year-old Go Eun-bi (pictured, right) died in a September 2014 bus accident. 

Eun-bi, who was known as EunB, died shortly after the group's bus crashed into a guard rail during a rainstorm, with police suspecting (via the Independent) that the driver was potentially speeding as a result of the group's busy schedule. However, the accident was not caught on the road's closed-circuit cameras. Ri-sae — known to fans as RiSe — underwent emergency brain surgery following the incident, eventually succumbing to her injuries four days later. Meanwhile, another member of the group who was seriously injured in the accident, Lee So-jung, survived. 

In November 2019, So-jung opened up about the tragic crash during a South Korean talk show appearance (via Soompi), describing how the accident happened on her birthday and mourning how none of the group members ate her birthday cake on the bus, for fear of gaining weight. "I've never talked about this. We should have eaten it," So-jung emotionally remembered. "... My birthday is a sad day."

Ahn So-jin died after losing out on K-pop stardom

Aspiring K-pop star Ahn So-jin was found dead on Feb. 24, 2015. According to Character Media, police investigated the 22-year-old performer's fall from the 10th floor of her apartment complex in the South Korean city of Daejeon. So-jin had been living there after her contract ended with the talent agency DSP Media, under which she had trained, seeking music stardom. Her death was ultimately determined to be a suspected suicide.

In the five years before her untimely death, So-jin had trained with DSP Media in the hopes of landing a spot in a K-pop girl group. As part of her efforts, she appeared on the 2014 reality TV show, "Kara Project," which featured aspiring stars competing to join the group Kara. So-jin, who reportedly struggled with depression, placed in the top four. Per Billboard, DSP Media had announced the creation of another girl group shortly before So-jin's death, with AllKPop reporting that she had not been invited to take part in the group. The talent agency confirmed as much in a press release following So-jin's death, noting that her contract had ended one month before she died.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Jonghyun broke fans' hearts with his untimely death

K-pop followers around the world mourned the death of Kim Jong-hyun, the lead singer of the group SHINee. In a case that gained international media attention, the 27-year-old star, who also went by Jonghyun, was found dead in his Seoul apartment on Dec. 18, 2017, in an apparent suicide, per CNN

Jonghyun's family and professional contacts shed light on his mental health after his death, with his sister (via The Chosunilbo) claiming that she called 911 after receiving texts from her brother, reading, "Please let me go. Tell me I did well. Final farewell." Jonghyun's sister also alleged that she received a 2,000-character text message days before he was found dead, saying that he was having a "hard time." Similarly, his management agency, SM Entertainment, also released a statement claiming the star had struggled with severe depression.

Following Jonghyun's death, his friend, Jang Hee-yeon — who performed with the K-pop group Dear Cloud — revealed (via Global News) that Jonghyun had sent him a letter two weeks prior to his death, telling him to share it "if he disappears from the world." Having received Jonghyun's family's permission, Hee-yeon posted what was seen as Jonghyun's final message on Instagram, in which the late K-pop star wrote in part, "The depression slowly chipped me away, finally devouring me."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

K-pop star Seo Minwoo died unexpectedly

33-year-old K-pop star Seo Minwoo, who performed as the lead singer of the group 100%, was found dead in his home in Seoul, South Korea on March 25, 2018. Minwoo allegedly died of cardiac arrest, though his cause of death has yet to be officially shared. 

"His family, the 100% members, and the TOP Media artists and staff members are all grief-stricken and in mourning from the unexpected, sad news," Minwoo's record label shared in a Korean-language statement, translated by People. Minwoo performed with 100% beginning in 2012, stepping away from the group in 2014 to perform compulsory military service. 

According to The Guardian, Minwoo's former bandmate, Woo Changbum, remembered him in a since-deleted Instagram statement, writing, "May the souls of the deceased refrain. I hope you are comfortable in the sky. I want you to be a bright star and shine this world." Following Minwoo's death, the four remaining members of 100% committed to resuming performing as a band, writing in a letter they shared the day of his funeral (via Metro), "Today, we have sent off (Minwoo) to heaven. Seven years of 100% and [an] even [longer] time together."

Tany lost his life in a car crash

Tany was only 22 years old when the South Korean singer died in a car crash on April 14, 2018. The young K-pop star was mourned by his talent agency, HOM Company, which told the press (via the Independent) that Tany's vehicle "crashed into a structure, with the car completely destroyed." In a sad twist of fate, Tany — whose real name was Kim Jin-soo — had previously been best-known for his song, "Always Remember," honoring the victims of the 2014 Sewol Ferry Disaster, which killed 300 people.

Tany's death provided further evidence of a disturbing trend of car accidents among K-pop stars. In an op-ed published in the wake of the 2014 deaths of Ladies' Code members Kwon Ri-sae and Go Eun-bi, AllKPop claimed that young K-pop celebs were particularly susceptible to automotive accidents, thanks to the grueling schedules imposed on them by their management agencies, with stars and their managers working long hours and constantly shuttling between public appearances. 

Years after the deaths of Ri-sae, Eun-bi, and Tany, the manager of K-pop group MustB died in a 2019 car crash. Jung Kook, a member of the wildly popular boy band BTS, admitted to instigating an automotive accident later that same year.

Woo Hye Mi was found dead right after her debut EP dropped

Woo Hye Mi, also known by the stage name Miwoo, was found dead shortly after the release of her first EP in 2019. "We are in shock that Woo Hye Mi is no longer with us," her agency, Downtown E&M, told Soompi that September. "She did not attend the meeting for her new single's music video, and so we tried to contact her, but she didn't respond to our attempts." She was 31 years old.

After getting her first taste of the limelight as a contestant on Mnet's "Voice Korea" (she finished in the top four in the show's debut season), Woo Hye Mi signed for the Leessang Company and adopted the moniker Miwoo. Her career stalled, however, and she was ultimately forced to move to a different agency in order to get it going again. It was 2012 when she appeared on "Voice Korea," but she didn't manage to get her first EP (entitled "S.S.T," meaning "Sweet Short Time") out into the world for another seven years.

"S.S.T" was a real labor of love for Woo Hye Mi, who wrote and produced the music herself. A couple of music videos followed the release of the EP, and her agency clearly had plans to produce more, but it wasn't to be. Fans began pouring over her Instagram page for signs that she had been struggling in the wake of the news, but no official cause of death was ever confirmed.

Sulli suffered from her K-pop stardom before her death

Sulli, a South Korean actress and singer who rose to prominence as a member of the K-pop group f(x), was found dead in her home on Oct. 14, 2019. She was 25. Police told The Guardian that the star, born Choi Jin-ri, had died of an apparent suicide, noting that her manager went to her home after he was unable to reach her. 

In the years leading up to her death, Sulli had stirred up controversy among her fans, drawing criticism for her career choices that, in retrospect, often seemed overly harsh. In 2014, she announced she would be stepping away from f(x), permanently leaving the group the following year. In response, f(x) listeners criticized her on social media, even as she spoke about struggling with the mental toll of stardom. "Even when I said I was exhausted, no one listened to me," Sulli said on a 2018 episode of her reality program, "Jinri Market" (via Koreaboo). "I felt all alone in the world."

Sulli also courted online controversy by speaking out against wearing braskissing a friend on the lips, and dating fellow K-pop star Choiza, who was 14 years her senior. Following Sulli's death, experts claimed that the cyberbullying she was subjected to may have contributed to her untimely death. Lee Dong-gwi, a psychology professor at Seoul's Yonsei University, told Channel News Asia that "insulting and hurting someone else's dignity is beyond that [freedom of expression] limit ... There need to be far harsher penalties for those who violate that law."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Goo Hara died following a traumatic legal battle

The K-pop world, still recovering from the October 2019 death of Sulli, received the shocking news on Nov. 24, 2019, that 28-year-old Goo Hara was found dead in her Seoul home. While the cause of death of Hara, a member of the K-pop group Kara, was not confirmed by Korean police, officials told the press (via the South China Morning Post) that "a handwritten note that was pessimistic about her life was found on [her] living room table," and that they were "keeping the possibility of suicide in consideration." 

Hara had previously survived a suspected suicide attempt in May of that year, posting "Goodbye" on her social media channels before eventually recovering in a hospital. The star also sparked a national #MeToo-style reckoning in South Korea in 2018, when she accused her ex-boyfriend, Choi Jong-bum, of blackmailing her with a video of their intimate activities — though she also received a wave of hateful Internet backlash in response. In June 2020, seven months after Hara's death, Jong-bum was sentenced to a year in prison in the revenge-porn case, with a South Korean court ruling (via the South China Morning Post) that Jong-bum had "seriously damaged" Hara's reputation and left her with "irreversible trauma."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Cha In-ha spoke positively about his career before his death

South Korean singer and actor Cha In-ha was found dead in his home on Dec. 3, 2019, marking the third suspected suicide of a young K-pop star in a strikingly short period of time, following Sulli's death in October 2019 and Goo Hara's death that November. Korean police told the press (via AllKPop) that the star, whose birth name was Lee Jae Ho, left "no will or final message [at] his home." Meanwhile, his talent label, Fantagio, requested that fans refrain from speculating on his cause of death. 

Reuters reports that In-ha had posted his final Instagram post the day before his death, with the cryptic message, "Everyone be careful not to catch the cold." The star, who had been a member of the acting collective, Surprise U, had embarked on a successful on-screen career in the years before his death. The Straits Times resurfaced quotes that he allegedly made about his career the month before he died, expressing his "courage and hope"  in the year to come. "I want to be someone who is constantly evolving as an actor and a human being," In-ha reportedly said. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

K-pop star Yohan was posthumously honored by fans

Kim Jeong-hwan, who performed under the name Yohan with the K-pop group TST, died at the age of 28 on June 16, 2020. According to The Guardian, his cause of death has not been announced, as of this writing. "The family has pleaded that media articles about Yohan's passing, such as those making speculations about the cause of his death, be refrained out of respect," TST's record label, KJ Entertainment, shared in a statement (via the Daily Mail), calling his death "the most unfortunate, sorrowful news."

Yohan had joined Top Secret (later renamed TST) in 2017, with the group releasing "Countdown" — its most recent single prior to his death — in January 2020. AllKPop reports that Yohan fans were understandably shocked by the news of the South Korean singer's death, considering he had been active on social media in the days leading up to his untimely death. Fans reportedly urged social media users to stream TST's music in order to honor Yohan's legacy. 

Iron was found unconscious in a bed of flowers

Described as "one of K-pop's most controversial stars" by the South China Morning Post, rapper Iron was found "bleeding and unconscious" in a flower bed outside his Seoul apartment complex in January 2021, a rep from the city's Jungbu Police Station said (via Metro). A security guard reportedly spotted the 29-year-old and raised the alarm. "He was urgently taken to the hospital, but he passed away," the police spokesperson confirmed to South Korea's Dispatch news group.

When the news first broke, police said that it was "unclear whether or not Iron died by suicide," but they appeared to confirm that this was indeed the case in a later statement. "The result of the investigation is that there is no possibility it was homicide and the cause of death is clear, so we will not be conducting an autopsy," they told Dispatch (via Soompi). It marked a sad end to a life mired in controversy.

The former Big Hit Entertainment trainee got his start on "Show Me the Money," a knockout-style talent show for budding rappers. He finished Season 3 in second place and dropped his first single soon after, but things started going downhill for Iron when he received a suspended sentence for smoking marijuana. He later received another suspended sentence for an assault on his girlfriend, and was in trouble with the law again just weeks before his death, this time for an alleged assault on a roommate.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

J. Yoon's bandmates suffered 'great sadness' after he was found dead

Fans of M.C the Max woke to some terrible news on May 13, 2021. The band's agency confirmed that it had asked police to call at the home of youngest member J. Yoon after becoming worried about his lack of contact, and officers found him dead. 325 E&C said that J. Yoon's bandmates were "grieving with great sadness" in a statement (via Allkpop). "We're very heartbroken to relay the unfortunate news to fans who've sent endless love and support to J.Yoon." No cause of death was given. He was 38.

Real name Yoon Jae Woong, J. Yoon was a prolific performer and producer. He had been on the South Korean music scene since 2000, when he debuted with Moon Child, the band that would later become M.C the Max. They had a number of hit singles over the years and picked up several big music awards, too — including in 2021, when M.C the Max was named artist of the year for the month of March at the 10th Gaon Chart Music Awards (via Soompi).

M.C the Max had enjoyed something of a renaissance in the previous few years, gaining a new audience by contributing to the soundtracks of several K-dramas. News of J. Yoon's death came not long after the band released a commemorative 20th anniversary album that contained two new tracks, "In Dreams" and "Bloom." Both songs went to number one and achieved platinum status, What The K-Pop confirmed.