Monday, January 29, 2007


South Korean singer U Nee received in death the attention that she craved for but never got in life.

Shortly after news broke of her suicide on Sunday (Jan 21), thousands of visitors logged on to a website that her fans had set up for her earlier but which was little-known before her death.

Her grandmother came home from a church service to find the 26-year-old hanging from a door frame with a white waistband around her neck.

The singer did not leave behind any will or suicide note. But the police, who are investigating the death, said it was an apparent suicide.

The police also said that people close to her revealed that she seemed to have been suffering from depression.

Some 3,000 netizens visited the homepage of her website and left condolence messages while reporters and television crew jostled for space at her wake.

"We lost you too early. Rest in peace," read one posting on her website.
The cyber-community was up in arms against those who placed stress on the singer with hate mail deriding her for being "over-revealing", a reference to the skimpy outfits and sexy dance moves that she was known for.

On top of that, it is speculated that the pressure from producing her third album after a two-year break from showbiz pushed the depressed singer over the edge.
Outside of South Korea, U Nee was relatively unknown.

But late last year, she enjoyed a brief period of dubious fame in Southeast Asia when photos of her in sexy poses were part of an e-mail that claimed, mistakenly, that U Nee was slain Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu, 28.

The sensational murder of Shaariibuu, a Mongolian model whose body was found blown up by explosives outside Kuala Lumpur last November, had been widely reported by the media.

Newspapers also mistakenly published U Nee's pictures as those of Shaariibuu's. But the mistake was discovered later when a Korean living in Singapore alerted a Korean news portal about it.

Unhappy childhood

U Nee had a troubled childhood. Her parents never married and she grew up with her maternal grandmother.

The singer, who bared her heart in a talk show two years ago, said: "I lived with just my grandmother when I was a child. It was really hard to live without a father." The experience, she said, led her to vow to help the needy.

The singer was a recluse who rarely mixed with other entertainers, none of whom attended her wake. She spent virtually all her time at her grandmother's apartment in Incheon city, venturing out occasionally only to her agency IDPlus for work-related matters.

The signs of depression were evident before she took her life. In a posting on her website shortly before her death, she wrote: "I feel that everything is empty. I am walking down a path towards an unknown destination."

At the mortuary, her mother said: "My daughter had been suffering from depression. She was an introverted child and had been hurt many times after becoming an entertainer at an early age."

U Nee made her showbiz debut as a teen actress by the name of Lee Hye Ryun in 1996. She starred in the KBS TV drama Grown-ups Just Don't Understand that year. She also appeared in the movie Seventeen in 1998 and in small-screen dramas Theme Game and Tears Of The Dragon.

In 2003, her debut album Go was released and she gained greater popularity with another album, Call Call Call, in 2005.

On the day of her death, she was scheduled to release her new album, Honey, and make a music video.

She was not a major-league singer, and her fans were mostly teenagers and national servicemen who were more enamoured with her image as a sultry, long-haired siren than her singing.

Some were willing to fork out 2,000 won (US$2) each to download her photos to their mobile phones.

In Singapore and the region, she was not as well known as K-popsters like BoA and Lee Hyo Lee. Apart from releasing a single in Japan last year, she also never expanded musically outside of South Korea.

She made occasional headlines with her titillating poses and the cosmetic surgery done on her nose and breasts.

But in a land where beautiful, aspiring starlets are a dime a dozen, finding fame was not an easy task - until her untimely and tragic death.

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