Korean singer Choi Sung-bong, who rose to fame after placing second on Korea’s Got Talent, has died by suicide, Seoul police said Wednesday. He was 33.
Choi was found dead by police at 9:41 a.m. Tuesday at his home in the Yeoksam-dong district of southern Seoul, according to the South Korean press service. Yonthapwho was the first to report the news.
Choi had an underprivileged upbringing and dropped out of music school because he couldn’t afford the tuition fees. After years of earning his living as a day laborer, his big break came in 2011 when he landed a spot on Korea’s Got Talent, broadcast by tvN. Choi’s operatic performance of Ennio Morricone’s “Nella Fantasia” stunned the show’s judges and he advanced to the finals, where he eventually came in second place with only 280 votes. The YouTube clip of his performance on the show went viral, gaining over 21 million views, with K-pop stars like BoA and Jung-Hwa Um promoting it on social media. Choi got an even bigger boost when Justin Bieber praised him on his Facebook page, writing, “This is amazing. Never say never, and good luck to this boy. Good story.” International media outlets praised Choi as the Korean version of Susan Boyle’s story at the time.
Choi secured a recording contract with Korean label Bong Bong Company and later published a best-selling memoir about his journey from an impoverished childhood to Internet fame. But his career took a dark turn toward infamy in 2021 after he launched a public fundraiser saying he was battling multiple cancers and needed money for treatment. The episode was later revealed to be a hoax.
Yonhap reports that Seoul police believe Choi committed suicide because of the conditions in his home at the time his body was discovered — and because of a note he uploaded to his YouTube channel earlier this week.
“I sincerely apologize to everyone who suffered from my foolish mistake,” the note said, adding that Choi had refunded all the donations he had received under false pretenses.
South Korea’s entertainment industry has been plagued in recent years by a succession of deaths among young performers, raising concerns about the mental health problems of performers in the country. In 2019, 25-year-old K-pop star Sulli was found dead in her home following a spate of cyberbullying. A few weeks later, 28-year-old Goo Hara, another K-pop star, was found dead in her home. Both cases involved suicides. K-drama actresses, Jung Chae-yull and Song Yoo-jung, both 26, have also passed away suddenly in recent years, but their agencies have not disclosed the cause of their deaths.
In October 2021, the South Korean government presented a plan to improve mental health care for local celebrities. But the high-profile deaths continued. Haesoo, a 29-year-old K-pop signer, committed suicide earlier this month.
If you or someone you know in the US is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. In other areas, call your local suicide hotline.