“It’s been too hard. Please send me off. Tell everyone I’ve had a hard time. Tell me I did well. This is my last goodbye.”
These were the final words of Kim Jonghyun, main vocalist of the popular K-Pop group SHINee, sent as a text to his older sister before he committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Shawols, the name for SHINee fans, are currently mourning the loss of the beloved idol, being comforted by other K-Pop fandoms such as VIPs (Big Bang), Blackjacks (2NE1), and ARMYs (BTS).
Shawols are changing their social media profile photos to an all-white image or an image of a rose in a symbolic gesture to free him from the darkness from which he was suffering; additionally, other fandoms are placing SHINee and Shawols above their own bands today.
Vocalist Nine9, a member of the group Dear Cloud, uploaded a last letter Jonghyun asked her to release to the world. Nine9 also got the permission of Jonghyun’s family before uploading the letter (translated by Allkpop):
“I am damaged from the inside. The depression that has been slowly eating away at me has completely swallowed me, and I couldn’t win over it.
I hated myself. I tried to hold on to breaking memories and yelled at myself to get a grip, but there was no answer.
If I can’t clear my breath, it’s better to stop.
I asked myself who can take care of myself.
It’s only me.
I was alone.
It’s easy to say I’ll end things.
It’s hard to end things.
I lived all this time because of that difficulty.
They said I wanted to run away.
That’s true. I wanted to run away.
I asked who it was. It was me. And it was me. And it was me again.
I asked why I kept losing my memories. They said it was because of my personality. I see. It wa smy fault in the end.
I wanted someone to notice, but no one noticed. No one met me, so of course they don’t know I exist.
I asked why people live. Just. Just. People just live.
If I ask why people die, I guess they’d say they were tired.
I suffered and I worried. I never learned how to turn my pain into happiness.
Pain is just pain.
They told me not to be like that.
Why? I can’t even end things the way I want?
They told me to figure out why I was hurting.
I know very well why. I’m hurting because of me. It’s all my fault and because I’m bad.
Doctor, is this what you wanted to hear?
No, I didn’t do anything wrong.
When the doctor blamed my personality with a quiet voice, I thought it was so easy to be a doctor.
It’s amazing how much I’m hurting. People who are hurting more live well. People weaker than me live well. I guess not. Out of everyone alive, there’s no one hurting more than I am and there’s no one weaker than I am.
But they said I should live.
I asked why so many times, but it’s not for me. It’s for you.
I wanted to be for me.
Don’t say things that don’t make sense.
Figure out why I’m hurting? I told you why. Why I was hurting. Is it not okay to be hurting this much because of that? Do I need a more dramatic detail? I need more of a story?
I told you why. Were you not listening? Things I can win over don’t end in scars.
It wasn’t my place to clash with the world.
It wasn’t my life to be known to the world.
They said that was why I was hurting more. Because I had clashed with the world, because I was known to the world. Why did I choose this? That’s funny.
It’s a miracle I lasted this far.
What more can I say? Just tell me I worked hard.
That it was good of me to come this far. That I worked hard.
Even if you can’t smile as you let me go, please don’t blame me.
I worked hard.
I really did work hard.
SM Entertainment released an official statement on Jonghyun’s death, saying that they are all “in deep mourning and shock” but that their “sadness cannot compare to the pain of his family,” who “had to say goodbye to a son and a brother”. Although authorities are currently investigating, they believe his cause of death to be suicide.
Leading up to his suicide, Jonghyun was a long-time supporter of disadvantaged groups, including the LGBT community. “I support you. As an entertainer, as a minority in a different definition who deals with the public, I feel a great sense of loss in this world where we don’t admit differences,” he once wrote to a transgender student. “I support you shouting squarely that difference isn’t wrong. I don’t think you are a person who needs other’s consolation or concern. You are as strong as much. I wish you stay healthy, and have a warm end of the year.”
Despite his care and concern for others, Jonghyun was struggling with his own inner demons; in his 2017 release, “Lonely”, his lyrics betray his emotional state:
“Baby I’m so lonely so lonely / I feel like I’m alone / When I see you so tired, I worry / that I’m baggage to you, that I’m too much”
Additionally, previous interviews indicate that he had been suffering, buckling under the weight of society’s unfair demands thrust upon him due to his profession. In a particularly telling segment for MNet’s “4 Things Show”, Jonghyun openly wept as he confessed that he worries about how others perceive him — even believing that no one wanted to get to know his true self.
“I don’t think there are too many people to whom I’ve revealed everything like this,” he said, holding a teddy bear. “I would worry about what they would think if I were to talk to them in such a manner. No matter what I say, honestly, people would only judge me the way they want to.”
Jonghyun continued, unable to stop his tears from flowing. “Before, I would want to show the real side of me because of the unfair things that people said about me, but I realized that it was impossible and tried to think why people thought of me in that manner.
“I thought that people didn’t want to know the real me. There aren’t that many people who would want to know the real me. Of course, not much has changed since then, but if I were to express myself first, then wouldn’t they think differently?”
In another interview, Jonghyun also spoke of his disposition, his depression, and his outlook on life. “Ever since I was little I showed a lot of depressive feelings, and it’s the same in the present,” Jonghyun told Esquire in May 2017. “But I don’t think I can keep living my life sustaining those depressive feelings forever. You might be able to go through the early-to-mid-part of your life with that kind of melancholy.
“But if you want to grow, you can only survive if you throw those feelings away. Unless you want to get trapped within yourself and die, you have to grow no matter how much it hurts — but if you stop because you’re afraid, in the end it’s inevitable that you’d remain in an immature state of mind.”
He also explained that his retreat to radio had become a way to handle stress. “I came running to radio in order to escape. I don’t really like going outside. And I don’t really like having to meet a lot of people. I’m also afraid of trying new things. The radio now felt like my own personal space. It had become an escape hatch for me to greet new things without feeling awkward.
“It became a mental refuge for me, but it also enveloped me with physical fatigue. You could say it was a space of love and hate.”
He also expressed feelings of inadequacies — the same sentiments he texted his sister in his final moments. “Since I was young, I was busy enough trying to take care of my own self. I was obsessed with wanting to not cause anyone harm, and I was obsessed with fulfilling my role exactly the right way. Because I felt like I wasn’t good enough.
It was his feeling of inadequacy and inferiority that haunted him throughout his career. “As soon as our debut was decided and we started practicing, I was just overwhelmed by a sense of inferiority.
“You could say I felt inferior to the artists that I loved and dreamt of (being like). Someone might say: “why would you compare yourself to Chris Brown?”, but that doesn’t make me feel any better, since my own personal judgment is more important. That’s the driving force that made me grow/progress the most significantly.
“My feelings of depression and inferiority were always the ones that ruled over me.”
The interview ended on a hopeful note. “I plan to be happy. My disposition in and of itself has a tendency to torment me. For people like me, it isn’t easy to be happy. Though on the other hand, it is possible to grow.
“A few years ago, I was crying and whining at my mom and sister while I was really drunk. I asked my mom and my sister.. it wasn’t long after we’d moved. I asked them if they were happy. I got drunk and woke up my entire sleeping family, like some ahjussi. It had been my number one goal in life, you know, to make my mom and sister happy. They both woke up and told me they were happy.
“But I was so envious at the fact that they were able to reply that they were, indeed, happy. Because it wasn’t like that for me. I told them while sobbing: ‘I want to be happy too.’ Then I felt like I’d done my mom and sister wrong.
“But from then on, I started contemplating about happiness. For about six months, I pondered specifically over what I would need to do in order to become happy. I think that time of transformation has come. I think I need to become happy, now. I must become happy.
“I am going to be happy.”