SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean actor Cha In-ha was found dead in his home, police said on Wednesday, the country’s third young celebrity to die in the past two months amid growing debate about the intense social pressures artists face.
In an unrelated case, K-pop star Kang Daniel’s management agency Konnect Entertainment said the former member of the hit boy band Wanna One had decided to take a break from his performing schedules due to “depression and panic attacks.”
The agency said the 22-year-old has recently been showing “frequent signs of worsening health and anxiety.”
Kang was a former member of the 11-member Wanna One which went on to become one of the biggest K-pop acts after its debut in 2017. He went solo in 2018.
While South Korea’s pop culture mostly projects a wholesome image on stage and screen, it has recently been marred by a series of untimely deaths and criminal cases that have revealed a darker side of the industry.
A police official told Reuters that Cha, 27, was found dead on Tuesday and that the cause of the death was not immediately known.
Cha, whose real name is Lee Jae-ho, made his film debut in 2017 and was previously a member of the five-member boy band Surprise U, which released two albums.
The singer-actor had left an Instagram post the day before he was found dead, a single line message to his fans: “Everyone be careful not to catch the cold.”
There were no reports to suggest he had been subjected to the kind of personal attacks and cyber bullying that other K-pop artists have received.
His talent agency Fantagio in a statement expressed “the deepest mourning for his passing” and asked the public and the media to refrain from spreading stories about his death.
Cha’s death comes after a popular K-pop singer, Koo Hara, 28, was found dead at her home last month. She had been subjected to personal attacks on social media.
Her death followed the apparent suicide of a fellow K-pop star, Sulli, a former member of girl group f(x), in October. Sulli, 25, had spoken out against cyber bullying.
The cases have cast a dark cloud over the K-pop craze, one of South Korea’s most successful soft power exports, and brought a renewed focus on personal attacks and cyber bullying of young stars that goes largely unpunished.
Lee Maria, a 52-year-old office worker, said it was heartbreaking to see talented young artists making “tragic choices” but what was more alarming was the prospect of their fans seeking to emulate their actions.
Kim Dae-han, a Seoul resident who said he was the same age as Cha, said his view of the celebrities had changed after the recent deaths: “I think they might be in pain even though their life looks very fancy.”
The industry has also been hit by a series of sex scandals. Last week, two male former K-pop band members were convicted of sexual assaults and sentenced to prison terms.
Reporting by Sangmi Cha; additional reporting by Youngseo Choi; Editing by Jack Kim, Sam Holmes and Raju Gopalakrishnan