Alarm bells are ringing in Korea's entertainment business after the apparent suicides of pop singer U;Nee and actress Jeong Da-bin within three weeks of each other.
Agencies are clearly worried. While the stars ostensibly enjoy wealth and fame, they are also more at risk than ordinary people because their kudos can vanish in an instant. The fickle nature of the business brings its attendant anxieties, especially for women, experts say.
The actress Choi Jin-sil recalls the envy of other performers when she was a teen star. "You may think that the happiest moments come with the 'golden time' of celebrity," she says. "But the mental stress is extreme as well." She admits she suffered from great insecurity not knowing if her fame would last.
Then there is the threat of litigation. As a star's popularity soars and their fees rise, lawsuits become commonplace, especially from management agencies. Jeong was being sued for pulling out of a contract with her former management agency in February 2005. Already in 2002, she was accused of failing to hand over part of her pay to the agency. She lost. Min Sung-kil, a psychiatrist from Severance Hospital said celebrities in many cases are more exposed to stress than ordinary people. "As a last resort, depressed celebrities may choose to kill themselves."
Management agencies are reassessing their role to protect the celebrities they represent. Namoo Actors, the agency of the actress Lee Eun-ju, who committed suicide in 2005, is taking more time with its star entertainers. Fantom Entertainment Group, which represents the actresses Han Hyo-joo and So Yu-jin and singer Ivy, is taking particular care with its female clients, including ample consultation time.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Scientific Investigation after a postmortem on Monday tentatively concluded the death of Jeong Da-bin was suicide. It said there was no evidence of foul play and Jeong's body showed clear evidence of death by hanging. Jeong's boyfriend, identified by his last name Lee, who discovered the body and called police, said the actress first tried to kill herself by cutting her wrist in Sept. 2006. Jeong's family and her new agency had requested the postmortem, asserting that the scar on her wrist was the result of a suicide attempt in her teens, not last year, and saying she had no reason to kill herself.
Jeong's funeral service was delayed by a day due to the postmortem and will now be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Asan Medical Center.