Industry experts cite everything from the pressure of the spotlight to cyberbullying to mental health taboos
This story was updated to include the results of a Sept. 18 autopsy on Alien Huang.
Two weeks ago, three well-known Asian celebrities were reported as having committed suicide, all over three consecutive days. All were 36 years old.
(An autopsy later found Huang suffered from cardiovascular disease. Huang’s agent said doctors believe his death was caused by aortic dissection and was not self-inflicted.)
But this disturbing pattern doesn’t stop there. On Saturday, Japanese actress Takeuchi Yuko died at the age of 40. Her death is rumoured to be a suicide. And in July, Haruma Miura died by suicide at the age of 30, while pro wrestler and Terrace House cast member Hana Kimura died by suicide at the age of 22 back in May.
Japanese actor Takashi Fujiki, who co-starred in the series Bloody Monday alongside Ashina and Miura, also died of a suspected suicide just last week, at the age of 80. He left behind a note saying he had “no confidence to continue acting.”
Several of these celebrities were known to be suffering from depression, had faced pressure from the industry, and/or had been cyberbullied by fans.
While no direct link has been reported between their deaths, they do follow a years-long pattern of suicide, particularly in Korean celebdom. In fact, just last year, a series of K-pop singers took their own lives one after the other, including Choi Sulli, Goo Hara and Cha In-ha.
In a recent People article, Sulli’s former f(x) bandmate Amber Liu said of their experience being in the spotlight, “It was fun at first. But later, the loneliness and all that stuff settles in. … Of course I’m going to post happy things on social media. Because if I post that I’m depressed, nobody’s going to want to see that.”
Liu cited a gruelling training and performance schedule and significant pressure by the industry and fans as reasons for why she and her bandmates found the stress of being in a pop group difficult over the years.
In 2009, Korean actress Park Jin Hee conducted her own survey of her peers for a thesis paper and found that, of the 260 actors she spoke with, 40 per cent had thought of dying “because it’s too tiring to live.” Meanwhile, 30 per cent said they had seriously considered committing suicide before. Their reasons included “unprotected privacy, malicious comments, unstable incomes and anxiety about the future.”
With the Korean entertainment industry being particularly cutthroat and competitive, there’s a considerable pressure to project a perfect image to the public at all times. For young celebrities, especially, agencies are known to often dictate everything from where they live to what they eat to who they can date and what they wear. With taboos over mental illness ever-present, many resist seeking help.
South Korean entertainment reporter Kim Dae-O wrote earlier this year in the Guardian:
“South Korea’s entertainment industry itself has to bear a lot of the responsibility. It treats celebrities as commodities from whom a few powerful agencies can squeeze as much income in as short a time as possible. Many celebrities are spotted as children and are not taught valuable life skills, only how to sing and dance. The situation is worse for female celebrities, with the public more interested in every salacious detail of their lives.”
In the week before her death, Kimura had been dealing with considerable cyberbullying on her social media accounts. In one of her last tweets, according to Variety, she wrote, “Thank you to everyone who supported me. I love it. I’m weak, I’m sorry.”
The issue has become so widespread that, in South Korea, social media users can be fined $2,000 for urging someone to kill themselves. In 2018, the government also made organizing a suicide pact a criminal offence, in an effort to reduce the suicide rate.
The Korean Association of Journalists, reports Dae-O, even encourages reporters not to share details of how people have committed suicide, for fear that they will inspire copycat deaths.
For those with suicidal thoughts, or if you are concerned about a friend or loved one, please contact the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645 between 4 pm and midnight ET.