K-Pop Stars Who Died Way Too Young

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 passed away 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 anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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 suffering from 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 passing, 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. 

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, passed away 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 passed away 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 passing, 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 passing, noting that her contract had ended one month before she died.

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 passing, 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."

K-pop star Seo Minwoo passed away 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.

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 suffering from 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 passing. 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."

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."

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 passing 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 passing, 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. 

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 passing — 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 passing. Fans reportedly urged social media users to stream TST's music in order to honor Yohan's legacy.