The K-pop star and actor Sulli has been found dead at the age of 25. Police said that the celebrity, born Choi Jin-ri, was discovered unconscious at her Seongnam residence on 14 October.
“Her manager visited her home after failing to reach her since their last call the night before,” Seongnam police said, adding that Sulli had been experiencing severe depression. “It seems that she took her own life but we are also looking into other possibilities.”
Sulli was a member of the popular K-pop girl group f(x), launched by SM Entertainment in 2009, which achieved domestic and some international success. Sulli went on hiatus from the group in July 2014, reportedly suffering from “stress-related pain”, related to the circulation of rumours about her personal life.
She finally left the group in August 2015 to focus on her acting career, taking a role in the 2017 superhero movie Real. She also released her debut solo single, Goblin, this summer.
Sulli was a relatively controversial figure in the conservative Korean entertainment industry. At times she did not wear a bra, a stance that won her approval and opprobrium. “Going braless is one’s freedom,” she said on Korean network JTBC’s Night of Hate Comments show on 21 July.
“When I upload my photos without a bra, people talk about it a lot,” she said. “I could have been scared. But I [wasn’t] because I thought it would be nice if more people could discard their prejudices.”
She was also visible with her romantic relationships – a rarity – and received homophobic remarks for pecking her best friend, K-pop star and actor Goo Ha-ra, on the lips at her birthday party. In April this year, she accused fans of “gaze-rape” – which the Korea Times defined as “a newly coined term referring to excessive gazing that makes people feel violated” – during an Instagram live stream that showed her drinking with friends.
Her candour on mental-health issues was another anomaly in the Korean entertainment world. In 2018, she revealed on reality TV show Jinri Store that she had suffered panic disorders from a young age. “Even close people left me,” she said. “I was hurt by them and felt there was nobody who understands me, which made me fall apart.”
Her recent Instagram videos had shown her crying and saying, “I’m not a bad person.” In the wake of her death, a number of K-pop fan accounts have decried the toxic fan culture and online bullying that Sulli was subjected to.