Doctor Spills Beans on Kim Il-sung's Quest for Eternal Life

North Korean nation founder Kim Il-sung dreamt of immortality during his twilight years just like China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang, according to his former doctor.

In 1977, when he turned 65, Kim gathered the top medical experts in his country and created a team of physicians tasked with extending his lifespan. The team analyzed 1,750 herbs recorded in oriental medicine textbooks, grew medicinal plants and conducted experiments to see if Kim and his son Jong-il could live to the age of 120.

Dr. Kim So-yeon (65) was the head of a research institute Kim Il-sung created. From 1982 to 1992, she worked for the sole purpose of maintaining the Great Leader's health.

But eventually she grew disillusioned with North Korea and defected to the South in 1992. She recently published a book compiling her 30 years of research on longevity.

After graduating from Pyongyang Medical College in 1969, Kim worked as a surgeon before being assigned to the institute in 1979 to discover the secrets of good health and longevity. She says the first step to longevity is to eat well and laugh a lot.

Kim recalls the dictator as jovial and outgoing. She said a wide array of information on Kim Il-sung's health, down to the food he ate, was recorded and stored. But his health began to deteriorate in the late 1980s. He suffered from cerebral arteriosclerosis probably brought on by stress.

The first remedy the institute attempted was to make the dear leader laugh. "We invited a stage actor to perform a comedy and got five- and six-year-olds to do adorable things," she said. Any performer who succeeded in getting the dear leader to laugh five times a day was given the title of "meritorious actor."

She said this was the start of a troupe of female performers maintained for the entertainment and pleasure of the North Korean political elite.

But the doctor says it was greed that prevented Kim Il-sung from reaching the age of 100. In her book she reveals that while Kim frantically looked for a wonder drug, he did not actually take care of himself.

From the age of 78, he started to demand blood transfusions from young men. As a result, the doctor claims, his blood type changed from AB to B and he changed from a "tae-yang" or gregarious and charismatic physiological type to a "tae-eum" or silent and calculating type.

The superstition that blood type determines personality is not uncommon in some Asian countries.

Kim Il-sung died in 1994 at the age of 82.

Kim So-yeon, who had stayed single to dedicate herself to the regime, became disillusioned with the North as she watched her own mother die in 1985. Her mother's dying wish was for Kim to seek out her father in the South. She says that dying wish sparked off a feeling of great regret. She says she also felt a "sense of shame" for wasting her medical talents merely to find ways to extend the life of a dictator.

Kim said "excessive" remedies prescribed to the Great Leader, including the blood transfusions, "led to side effects."

In reality, she believes the key to longevity is in daily habits, and it is wrong to hope for a long life while indulging every desire. "By getting rid of your bad habits, living until the age of 120 can become a reality," she adds.

englishnews@chosun.com / Nov. 19, 2013 08:25 KST