North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Dies (Video)
The Communist head of state and film fan was 69 or 70; his son Kim Jong Un was named his successor in 2010.
SEOUL, South Korea -- Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader and dedicated film fan, died Saturday at 69 or 70, due to conflicting birth records.
Kim's death was announced Monday by state television from Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.
Kim was a well-known cinema fan with a reported collection of 10,000 films from all languages and origins, including Hollywood. In 1973 he wrote his own guide to movie-making, On the Art of the Cinema.
“The cinema is now one of the main objects on which efforts should be concentrated in order to conduct the revolution in art and literature. The cinema occupies an important place in the overall development of art and literature. As such it is a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction,” it proclaims in the preface.
The "Dear Leader," as he was known to North Koreans, may have taken his obsession with film too far. In 1978, South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, were kidnapped in Hong Kong in two separate incidents and forced to work on films in North Korea. After eight years in the north, the two escaped during a trip to Vienna. North Korean authorities deny Shin and Choi's story.
His oversized sunglasses and olive drab tracksuits, combined with North Korea's Stalinist government and society, made Kim a target for satire in Western media. He was the sole figure in one of The Economist's most memorable cover images, captioned with the line "Greetings, Earthlings."
The communist dictator was a recurring character on South Park, and was the main villain in the South Park movie, Team America: World Police.
Born in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk, Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media. The leader, reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.
Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.
His reign will be remembered for military belligerence and mismanagement of the economy at home. Famine punctuated much of the 1990s, including a series of crop failures that resulted in the deaths of as many as 3.5 million North Koreans, according to estimates from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Floods in 2006 and 2007 exacerbated the nation's need for food assistance for other countries.
North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in May, 2009. It also moved aggressively against its southern neighbor, with which it remains officially at war, in 2010. North Korea was blamed for torpedoing a new South Korean warship in March 2010, killing 46 South Korean sailors. Forces from the North also shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in Nov. 2010, killing two and causing the island's evacuation.
In September 2010, Kim Jong Il unveiled his third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts. Kim Jong Un is officially named as the nation's new leader in the official North Korean news broadcast below, making him the third generation of the world's only hereditary communist dictatorship:
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