Childhood & Personal Life
Kim Jong-il was born as Yuri Irsenovich Kim on February 16, 1941, in Vyatskoye village, near Khabarovsk, Soviet Union, to Kim II-sung and his first wife, Kim Jong-suk, while they were in exile during the Japanese invasion of Korea.
His birth was believed to be supernatural as a double rainbow appeared, a new star emerged in the sky, and the season changed from winter to spring, when he was born.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the family returned to Pyongyang and settled in a former Japanese officer’s bungalow. Unfortunately, his mother died during childbirth in 1949, though reports state that she was shot dead.
He completed his schooling from Namsan Higher Middle School in 1960, after which he went to Kim II-sung University, majoring in Marxist political economy with philosophy and military science as minor subjects.
He is believed to have studied English language from the University of Malta during the early 1970s.
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In 1961, he entered politics by joining the Workers’ Party and after graduating in 1964, he rose to different ranks, becoming a member of Workers’ Party Central Committee to ensure smooth functioning of the party’s ideological system.
He initiated policies to bond party workers with people, launched Three-Revolution Team Movement where people were trained by political, technical and scientific technicians, and took steps to facilitate economic planning.
Just as his father was known as the ‘Great Leader’, he was given the title ‘Dear Leader’ and was often referred as ‘fearless leader’ and ‘the great successor to the revolutionary cause’.
During the Sixth Party Congress in 1980, he was appointed at senior positions in the Military Commission, the Politburo, and the Secretariat, thus holding control over all sectors of government.
He was assigned the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army in 1991, despite having no military experience, and was made the Chairman of the National Defense Commission in 1993.
The economic stagnation prevailing during his father’s reign, due to self-reliance policy and mismanagement, completely devastated the country and led to a severe famine, resulting in massive starvation and despair.
He started the “Military-First” policy, where the military was provided with national resources to keep it in his control and fight both domestic and foreign threats.
In 1994, he signed a framework with the United States to dismantle all nuclear weapons programs in exchange of receiving fuel oil and assistance in developing two power-generating nuclear reactors.
He was re-elected as the Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared it as ‘the highest post of the state’ in 1998, while abolishing the president’s post and naming his father as ‘Eternal President’.
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In 2003, when it came to light that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons, tensions between North Korea and United States increased, resulting in several multilateral negotiations, during 2003-05.
Even though the US insisted on eliminating all nuclear weapons programs, Kim Jong-il refused and confirmed that his country had already carried out a successful underground nuclear bomb test in 2006.
He was known for following a rights-abusing policy and maintaining kwanliso, or gulag-like political prison camps, where over 200,000 prisoners are still captured and exposed to torture, near-starvation rations, executions, and forced labor.
His absence from the Olympic torch relay in Pyongyang and military parade to mark North Korea’s 60th anniversary in 2008 triggered rumors of his deteriorating health after suffering from a debilitating stroke.
Apparently, his three sons, brother-in-law and an army general, O Kuk-ryol, were contenders for the next North Korean leader. He, however, declared his youngest son, Kim Jong-un as the successor in 2009.
During 2010 and 2011, he made foreign trips to China and Russia with his heir apparent to strengthen his relations with both the countries.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Kim Young-sook, and had a daughter Kim Sul-song with her in 1974.
Apart from his official wife, he was known to have kept three mistresses. These relationships produced four children – son Kim Jong-nam, son Kim Jong-chul, son Kim Jong-un, and daughter Kim Yo-jong.
He died on a train during a domestic trip outside Pyongyang, due to a heart attack on December 17, 2011. His body was displayed in a glass coffin at Kumsusan Memorial Palace from December 20-28 for an 11-day mourning period.
On December 28, 2011, a 40-km three-hour funeral procession was conducted for two-days, after which he was embalmed, covered with a flag of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and interred at Kumsusan Memorial Palace.
His birth date, February 16, is celebrated as the ‘Day of the Shining Star’ and declared as ‘the greatest auspicious holiday of the nation’.
His fashion sense became a global phenomenon , especially his bouffant hairstyle and four-inch platform shoes which he wore to increase his height.
He is said to have composed six operas over a period of two years and was a die-hard movie buff, housing a collection of over 20,000 foreign films, including his favorites – ‘Rambo’, ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Friday the 13th’.
He was a great boozer, spending around $600,000 annually on Hennessy liquor, thus becoming its largest customer during early 1990s. He consumed cognac worth $700 per bottle in a country where the average annual income was $1000.
This North Korean leader displayed the ‘big six’ group of personality disorders – anti-social, paranoid, schizotypal, narcissistic, sadistic, and schizoid, which were exhibited by famous dictators Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
In 1994, he picked up a golf club for the first time and shot a 38-under par round with 11 holes-in-one. Such was his exceptional performance that he retired from the sport thereafter.