Mourners bid farewell to Korean actor

Another Korean celebrity suicide stuns fans

SEOUL --  Wailing mourners wiped away tears Friday as they bid an emotional farewell to a popular South Korean actor and singer whose suicide stunned fans at home and in neighboring Japan.

Park Yong-ha, 33, killed himself Wednesday in distress over career and family pressures, the latest in a string of high-profile suicides in the Asian country.

About 100 fans -- mostly Japanese women in black mourning attire -- stood outside a hospital and surrounded the hearse carrying Park's coffin to a cremation site, briefly preventing it from departing. One tearful fan held up a T-shirt expressing love for the late actor. Another reached out to touch the vehicle.

His ashes were later buried in a public cemetery in the town of Bundang just south of Seoul following a funeral ceremony amid heavy rain.

Police have said Park had been under stress because he had to juggle management of his entertainment company and career while his father was fighting stomach cancer. The actor had been taking sleeping pills due to insomnia, police said, citing Park's mother.

Park was one of the most popular South Korean celebrities in Japan, where South Korean movies, television dramas and singers have developed a devoted following in recent years, mostly among women. One of his fans is Japan's former first lady, Akie Abe.

Park debuted in the late 1990s and starred in the 2002 television drama series "Winter Sonata," which was also watched by fans in Japan and Southeast Asia. He held several concerts in Japan and released eight CDs there.

He was supposed to hold 12 concerts across Japan from Friday to Aug. 22 and the tickets were sold out, according to Japanese record company Pony Canyon Inc.

Abe's blog displayed photos of Park, including one taken with him. She wrote in an entry that she had been looking forward to seeing his concert on July 17 and was shocked at the news of his death.

"Why did you die?" she wrote. "You must be free from pain now, and I sincerely send my condolences."

South Korea has the highest suicide rate among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Choi Jin-sil, one of South Korea's most famous actresses, committed suicide two years ago. In March, her younger brother, Choi Jin-young, also an actor, killed himself in Seoul.

Former president Roh Moo-hyun jumped to his death in May last year while embroiled in a widening corruption scandal.