South Korea’s beloved musical TV talent show host and veteran entertainer Song Hae passed away on Wednesday at his home in Seoul’s Gangnam district at the age of 95.
Song was hospitalized twice this year for unspecified reasons, most recently in May, and tested positive for COVID-19 in March. He had previously expressed his intentions to leave his hosting duties at KBS’ “National Singing Contest” due to his deteriorating health.
The late veteran entertainer was widely known in South Korea as the “nation’s emcee.” He was the host of “National Singing Contest” for 34 years, which earned him a Guinness World Record in April for being the oldest TV music talent show host.
Born during the Japanese occupation of Hwanghae province, in what is now part of North Korea, he was once known as Song Bok-hee until he escaped to South Korea on a U.N. ship with the new name “Hae,” meaning “sea” in Korean. Song returned to North Korea in 2003 to host “Pyongyang Song Contest” but was never able to reunite with his mother or sister who remained behind.
Throughout his career, Song advocated for diversity in South Korea’s homogenous society and often featured people of different backgrounds on his show. He often pushed for the inclusion of contestants with disabilities and expressed support for the LGBTQ community despite the country’s conservative nature.
On “National Singing Contest,” Song was known for having an empathetic and neighborly persona that brought comfort and ease to contestants as young as three years old and as old as 115 years old. As a veteran entertainer, he often performed improv with contestants who did bizarre performances, such as one where a woman practiced bottle feeding on Song and another where a man arrived covered in bees, causing Song to be stung more than 20 times.
Song also covered the culture of overlooked and rural areas of South Korea, exploring the struggles and stories of the individuals who live there.
“Everyone I have met on ‘National Singing Contest’ is my life’s cherished fortune. I don’t have much, but they say the richest people in life are those who have been blessed to meet many different people from all walks of life,” Song said in a January interview on KBS.
Song’s funeral was held at the Songhae Memorial Hall, where attendees reminisced about their times with Song.
“He would bring drinks to all the hairdressers for their hard work. I am very heartbroken,” a hairdresser told a reporter for YTN.
“He would gather the elderly and those in need and take them around restaurants to eat together,” a soup restaurant owner recalled.
Song’s career and achievements have been celebrated in several films and shows as well as various locations honoring his life, including a bronze statue of Song on a street named after him called “Songhae-gil” and a museum in Daegu dedicated to the late entertainer’s life.
Song and his wife Suk Ok-ee, who died in 2018, are survived by their two daughters.