K-Pop Stars Who Tragically Died Before 30

The life of a K-pop star is hard. Sure, if they make it, the performer is known as an "idol" and worshiped by fans all over the world. But even getting into a group takes years of singing and dance training. Contracts are notoriously strict, even including clauses that female band members must be weighed by their management every week so that they don't gain weight. It's a glamorous-looking but hard life.

And it gets worse. The number of young K-pop artists who have died in the past 15 years is staggering. Some got sick, which is horrible but could happen to anyone. But others died as a direct result of their fame. A handful completed suicide due to the pressure, stress, and other dark sides of being a celebrity. And car accidents are virtually synonymous with K-pop, with many famous names being injured over the years, and sadly, many others dying. Here are 11 K-pop stars who tragically passed away by the time they hit 30.

Jonghyun was crushed by the pressure of fame

The death that sent the biggest shockwaves through the K-pop industry ever was probably that of Jonghyun, member of the hugely popular band SHINee. The Guardian writes that the group's "earnest, keeningly romantic songs, paired with immaculate choreography" made them the absolutely best of the K-pop genre. As 2018 approached, it looked like SHINee was about to become one of the very few K-pop groups to make it a decade in a business where success tends to be fleeting.

But the stress of the industry and the pressures of fame became too much for the 27-year-old Jonghyun, real name Kim Jong-hyun. On December 18, 2017, CNN says he sent his sister a concerning text including the lines, "Please let me go. Tell me I did well," and, "Final farewell." She contacted the police and they went to Jonghyun's apartment, where they found him unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital but declared dead later that night.

It emerged that two weeks before his death, Jonghyun sent a friend a 47-line text that was effectively a suicide note and had asked it be released if he "disappear[ed] from the world." It talked about his depression, self-loathing, and not being able to overcome it all, according to the Washington Post. Fans were in shock. A year later, a huge memorial for the star was held in New York City.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Seo Jae-ho died due to his manager's reckless driving, would not be the last

Wanted was an up-and-coming K-pop boy band with one album under their belt when they were involved in a serious car accident on March 11, 2004. According to the Korean source Dong A, it was 3 a.m. when the band's manager crashed their car into a 5-ton truck. Three of the band members were injured and treated at the hospital, while the fourth member, 22-year-old Seo Jae-ho, died. The remaining band members would eventually release two more albums, but they took a three-year break.

Car accidents are such a problem in K-pop that their usual cause has a name: "manager driving." Chosunilbo says the schedules for entertainers in South Korea, especially for K-pop singers, are so crazy that it's virtually impossible to get everywhere on time unless you drive like a maniac. They might visit seven different out-of-the-way places a day, and not plan adequate travel time to get to each. But being late and throwing off everyone else's schedules isn't an option, so aggression and speed on the road is normal. Managers chauffeur their bands around in cars with alarms warning where speed cameras are, but it's still common to get double-digit numbers of tickets a month.

The citations are written off as "legitimate costs," but all too often the cost is also injury or death. The crash that killed Seo was put down to "excessive schedules" and his manager "driving while tired."

Tany honored those who died young in song, died young himself

Tany, real name Kim Jin-soo, was a solo K-pop star who rose to fame in 2016 when he released the song "Always Remember." According to the Independent, it was a tribute for the victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster that occurred two years before. More than 300 people died when the boat sank, most of them high school students.

Unfortunately, Tany would also die tragically young, at just 22. He was driving himself and another passenger at 2:30 in the morning on April 14, 2018, when he collided with a "structure." Korea Portal says the car caught on fire and was completely destroyed. The passenger also died. While it's thought Tany was probably overtired, this wasn't a case of manager driving, since he was the one at the wheel. He also wasn't rushing between gigs, having gone home to see his parents for a while while he dealt with "personal issues."

Despite having released two songs, Tany was still considered a "rookie" artist who hadn't officially "debuted" on the K-pop scene yet. His first album had been set to drop just a few months after he died. But there was still a huge outpouring of sadness at his death on Twitter. Many talked about how his music made them feel happy and comforted, while some pointed out they'd just "lost another talented idol at such a young age."

Ahn So Jin was pushed to her limit for years

Like many countries, South Korea loves TV talent shows. One saw seven hopefuls vie for a place in the already established and well-known girl group KARA, after two members left in 2014. According to Billboard, Ahn So Jin was one of the competitors and made it to the top 4 but didn't get into the group. This didn't mean all hope was lost for her career, though. K-pop stars go through years of boot camp before they debut, and So Jin had been signed as a "trainee" to a major label for years when she went on the show. In 2015, she was announced as a member of a new group, April, that would release music later in the year.

But All K-pop reports something went wrong. So Jin was quietly dropped from not only the group, but her agency contract altogether. After years of dedication, this would have been a huge blow. Sources said she became depressed. A month after her label let her go, So Jin jumped from the 10th floor of her apartment. She was rushed to the hospital but didn't make it. She was 22.

Her suicide in 2015 once again brought up the topic of how hard K-pop stars and wannabes are pushed. K-pop Starz says insiders explained trainees "struggle to survive," get paid virtually nothing, are socially isolated, and give up their education while competing viciously with other trainees to get in groups. But even with So Jin's suicide, the "vicious cycle" continued.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

EunB died in a major accident that would take more than one life

The girl band Ladies' Code was formed in 2013 and released many successful singles before finally debuting their first full album in 2014, according to the Independent. Even American media like Billboard picked them out as a group to watch. But that same year, an unbelievable tragedy happened. They had just filmed a television appearance and their driver was speeding along a wet road, trying to make the next event on their tight schedule. Billboard says the back wheel suddenly flew off, and the van crashed into a guardrail. The driver and two of the band members suffered only minor injuries. One fractured her jaw. But it would be worse for the other two.

Band member RiSe suffered major injuries and was rushed to the hospital. But EunB (pictured far right), real name Go Eun-bi, was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 22. Fans took to social media to express their shock and sadness. At one point, #RIPEunB was the top trending topic on Twitter worldwide. Her funeral was held just two days later, and hundreds of people attended. Nor was she forgotten. In 2017, two of her surviving bandmates posted old pictures of themselves with EunB on Instagram and wished her a happy birthday.

RiSe passed away days after her bandmate and best friend

After the crash that killed EunB, her bandmate RiSe (pictured second from left), real name Kwon Ri Sae, was rushed to the hospital where she underwent 10 hours of emergency brain surgery. But Kore reports she never regained consciousness and died four days after the crash, with her parents and management around her. She was 23. RiSe's wake and funeral drew many famous South Koreans.

RiSe was a fan favorite. According to New Paper, she had decided to follow her dreams of stardom after her father died when she was young. She'd already been a model, Miss Korea contestant, and finalist on a reality show when she joined Ladies' Code. RiSe was known as the "mother" of the group because of her caring and protective nature. The only time she saw controversy was when it was reported she'd performed for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il when she was in elementary school.

Fans who had been rooting for her recovery, including the mother of EunB, were crushed when she passed away. Police questioned the road manager who was driving the van and looked into why the airbags didn't deploy. Unfortunately, the accident wasn't caught on CCTV, but they did collect footage from the camera inside the vehicle. The record label stood by the driver, saying he was an experienced road manager who had "not experienced any particular accidents."

Kim Min Soo broke a promise not to ride his motorcycle, with deadly results

Monday Kiz debuted in 2005 as a duo, according to a K-pop blog. The two members took their name from the day they would meet up and train together. The pair released a hit single and then an album, quickly gaining popularity. But one of them, Kim Min Soo also loved his motorcycle.

In September 2007, Min Soo was involved in a major motorcycle accident. He was flung from his bike after being hit by a car, injuring his shoulder and leg. It took him four months to recuperate in the hospital, and he promised his management that he would never ride a motorcycle again.

So it was a shock to everyone when just a few months after he recovered, Min Soo was involved in another accident, this time fatal. At 6:20 a.m. on April 29, 2008, Min Soo crashed his bike into a tree. He was pronounced dead after emergency treatment failed, while his friend riding on the back of the bike was in critical condition but eventually pulled through. All K-pop reported that Min Soo's mother fainted when she heard about her son's passing, aged just 23.

With the blessing of Min Soo's parents, the remaining member of Monday Kiz released their already finished album five months after he died. After a couple quiet years, in 2010, two new members were added, and they dedicated one of their songs to Min Soo.

Sung In Kyu made a big impact in a very short time

The oddly named A'st1 was a six-member boy band that debuted in 2008, released one album, and then disbanded the following year. But people were still shocked in October 2011 when former member Sung In Kyu announced that he had thymus cancer. According to Asia 24/7, his message told fans that he'd started having chest pains six months before. Once it became difficult to breathe, he finally sought medical treatment and was given the diagnosis. Surgery was ruled out, but he underwent chemotherapy. He also said that despite being told not to by the doctors, he was still singing.

Despite the aggressive treatment and stage 2 diagnosis, the cancer apparently spread. Soompi says that on February 22, 2013, former A'st1 member Park Jung Jin announced that In Kyu had died. He was 24. Despite his short time in the industry, he'd made many friends and All K-pop reported many artists took to social media to share their shock and talk about what an amazing person In Kyu had been. The overwhelming response was the hope he was no longer suffering and in pain.

U;Nee was an actress turned singer who had to deal with horrible online trolls

Born as Hur Youn, U;Nee had a difficult childhood, according to Chosunilbo. She was raised mostly by her grandmother, while her father wasn't in the picture. But she went on to be a successful actress in South Korea starting in the 1990s. In 2003, she switched to singing, releasing her debut album. Her second album in 2005 was an even bigger hit and had finished a third when she killed herself in 2007.

U;Nee had apparently been suffering from depression. Friends told police that while she hid her stress even from her own family, the constant online criticism and attacks had gotten to her. It evidently became too much, and in January 2007, her grandmother came home from church to find U;Nee had hanged herself. She was 25. While she didn't leave a note, she had written a concerning post on her website sometime before her death, saying, "I feel everything is empty. I am again walking down a path to reach a destination that I don't know."

Within an hour of her death being announced, fans had left almost 3,000 condolence messages on her site.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Rottyful Sky wrote songs even when dying from a brain tumor

Kim Ha Neul (also known as Haneul and Sky before eventually setting on Rottyful Sky) debuted as a K-pop singer at the tender age of 14, according to Soompi. She started out as a solo artist and over the years was rumored to join different K-pop groups, but they never went anywhere. So in 2010, she went back to solo work and songwriting, along with doing some acting.

But in 2012, Rottyful Sky was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She dropped everything to get treatment. Fans first noticed something was up when Rottyful Sky attended a celebrity wedding and appeared to have gained a bit of weight (something normally unheard of for K-pop stars). It turned out this was due to the medication and treatment she was on. In October 2013, she was admitted to the hospital but was braindead. She died shortly after. Rottyful Sky was 25. Many celebrities attended her funeral.

In what is certainly a small consolation, her work lived on. Idol Wow! reported that she'd been writing songs up until her death, and at least one other K-pop artist released a song penned by Rottyful Sky after she died.

Lee Seo-hyun lost everything in the financial crisis

M.Street debuted as five-member group in 2004. K-pop groups always have a "leader," and M.Street's leader was Lee Seo Hyun. According to the blog Drama Beans, this meant he was under more stress than the average very-stressed-out K-pop artist. The stress ramped up in 2008 before the planned release of the group's fourth album. Then worldwide disaster struck.

The 2008 financial collapse affected a lot of people, including Seo Hyun. Apparently, he had invested not only his own money, but that of friends and co-workers in the stock market and lost virtually all of it. He had been trying to find solutions to the problem just days before, but the stress became overwhelming and he hanged himself in a recording studio on December 1, 2008. He left a note "expressing that he was sorry to his parents, siblings, and loved ones." Seo Hyun was 30 years old.

Soompi says M.Street took the next three years off, due to his death and another member having to serve his mandatory military service, but eventually they made a comeback with new music.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Sulli was a rare outspoken voice in the K-pop world

"She laughed when she wanted to laugh and cried when she wanted to cry. She brazenly spoke out. She didn't fit the mold." Those were the words one music critic used to describe Choi Jin-ri, better known to the K-pop world as Sulli, per the BBC. Sulli broke into the entertainment business in 2005 at the tender age of 11 and would join the immensely popular girl group f(x) in 2009. Described by K-pop writer Joshua Calixto as "arguably one of the most musically innovative groups that K-pop has ever seen" f(x) became immensely popular thanks to genre-crossing songs "that twisted conventions." However, Sulli would truly stand out by breaking social norms. 

After departing f(x) in 2015 to pursue acting, Sulli relaunched her singing career as a solo artist in 2018 and hosted a TV show. She addressed traditionally taboo topics like mental illness and challenged "the [K-pop] industry's carefully crafted image of young female stars as sexually desirable but inexperienced," according to the Guardian. She shattered that fantasy by posting photos of herself with a boyfriend. Her unconventionality infuriated male fans, who bullied her online. According to authorities, Sulli was severely depressed before she died in 2019. Her death has been treated as a possible suicide.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Cha In-ha's death may always remain a mystery

Cha In-ha was not primarily known as a singer in South Korea, instead finding fame as part of a five-piece "acting group" called Surprise U, according to the BBC. His debut came in the 2017 movie You, Deep Inside of Me. He went on to star in numerous TV shows, including the fabulously named Are You Human Too? and Clean with Passion for Now. But young, attractive actors get roped into the K-pop game by their management agencies all the time, and Cha and Surprise U released their one and only "mini album" of four songs, I Do, in 2017 as well. The group made one music video for the title track.

On December 3, 2019, Cha In-ha's body was found in his home. He was 27. The cause of death was never released, and in a statement, his entertainment agency asked "for rumours to not be spread and for speculative reports to not be released." Out of respect, we won't, except to note that it was the third K-pop death in the space of two months, and both the others were suicides. The announcement also said that the funeral would be a private affair.

Thanks to changes to Instagram in 2020, accounts of those who passed away could be memorialized instead of being deleted because the user was no longer active. Cha In-ha's account was one of the first to make the changeover.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Goo Hara went through a horrible experience

Goo Hara joined the girl group Kara in 2008, and the BBC says they became one of the first K-pop acts to find success internationally. She went on to release music as a solo artist, as well appearing on TV.

However, in 2018, she sued her ex-boyfriend, who had filmed her having sex with him without her knowledge and was threatening to release the footage online. The act is so common in South Korea it has a name, "molka," and there have been calls for the government to do something about it, according to The Guardian. In May 2019, Goo's manager found her unconscious at her home after what looked like a suicide attempt. Goo lived ... and had to apologize to her fans for causing "concerns and a commotion." Then she went back to work, releasing another single and touring Japan, but she asked her cyberbullies to back off, since suffering from depression wasn't "easy."

In November of the same year, Goo completed suicide. She was 28. The Straits Times reports that after her death, Goo's mother came forward looking for the 50 percent of her daughter's estate that, by South Korean law, she was entitled to. The problem was that she'd abandoned Goo when she was a child. Goo's brother asked the government for the law to be changed, and the debate on his petition is ongoing as of June 2020.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Yohan's death just added to 2020's horrible track record

Yohan, real name Kim Jeong-hwan, started as an idol with the group NOM (standing for No Other Man) in 2013, according to The Wrap. In 2017, however, he joined the five-piece Top Secret, who the New York Daily News says later changed their name to TST. They released two EPs that made it into the top 30 in South Korea. But the group saw drama in 2018, when member Lee Kyeong-ha was convicted of sexually assaulting a girl on their first date five years before, when they were both 16. He left the group, but TST went on without him. Their latest single, "Countdown," was released in January 2020, so Yohan's career seemed to still be going strong when he tragically died.

His death in 2020 was confirmed by his entertainment agency, who released a statement to The Guardian saying, "We are sad to relay the most unfortunate, sorrowful news. On June 16, TST member Yohan left this world. The late Yohan's family is currently in deep mourning." At the time of writing, his cause of death had not been announced. Whatever the reason, it was tragedy compounding tragedy in the K-pop scene, as he was the fourth young idol to die within eight months. Yohan was 28.