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Song Yoo-jung, South Korean actor, is found dead at 26
This picture taken on June 19, 2014 shows South Korean actress Song Yoo-jung speaking during a production presentation for the MBC daily drama "Make Your Wish" in Seoul. Song died on January 23, 2021 aged 26, Yonhap news agency reported. Dong-A Ilbo / AFP.

by Tiffany May and Youmi Kim

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- A 26-year-old actor was found dead Saturday in Seoul, South Korea, the latest loss of a young performer in the country’s entertainment industry, which has faced a reckoning over the mental health burden on its glamorous stars.

The death of the actor, Song Yoo-jung, who appeared in several television dramas, was confirmed in a statement by the company that represented her, Sublime Artist Agency. The agency did not disclose the cause, but the suddenness of Song’s death brought to mind the series of suicides that has plagued Korean pop music in recent years.

Alarms have long been raised over the pressures imposed by South Korean management companies on young entertainers, many of whom are groomed starting as teenagers to be pop idols. Their looks are closely scrutinized, and their tightly choreographed lives are often broadcast on social media platforms that expose them to both adulatory fan mail and hateful comments.

For many, their time in the limelight is limited, if they ever reach star status. By their late 20s, some are considered replaceable.

A number of the K-pop stars who have taken their own lives spoke of struggles with their mental health and the toll of cyberbullying. Song, an up-and-coming actor, had not mentioned publicly any such issues.

Song began her acting career at 20 and appeared in commercials for Estée Lauder skin care products and for the ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins. In her breakout role in 2019, Song played a fresh-faced architecture student with a pixie cut, searching for her soul mate, in a web series called “Dear My Name.” She also acted in music videos.

She was an advocate for people with disabilities, serving as ambassador for a South Korean group called Warm Accompaniment.

Song’s agency called her “a great actress who performed with passion.” It did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The problem of suicide in South Korea is not restricted to the entertainment industry. The country has the highest suicide rate among the 37 developed nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But celebrity suicides, involving actors and others, have been a fixture in the South Korean news media over the past decade or more. In recent years, attention has fallen most sharply on deaths in the K-pop industry, one of the country’s most successful cultural exports.

In 2017, a singer, Kim Jong-hyun, killed himself at 27 after leaving a note saying that he had been overcome by depression.

In 2019, Sulli, a 25-year-old K-pop star, took her own life after she had complained about the relentless cyberbullying she faced upon joining a feminist campaign that advocated not wearing bras.

About six weeks later, her friend Goo Hara, 28, also killed herself, leaving a handwritten note about her despair.

Goo had tried to reason with online critics, asking them to refrain from vicious comments.

“Public entertainers like myself don’t have it easy — we have our private lives more scrutinized than anyone else and we suffer the kind of pain we cannot even discuss with our family and friends,” she wrote.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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