An Enduring Pop Star Says Good-bye, Sans Tears

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An Enduring Pop Star Says Good-bye, Sans Tears

"The stage for me is like my parents or my teachers: It fed me when I was hungry, it supported me whenever I felt tired," wrote Yoon Bok-hee, 55, in her autobiography titled "Entertainer" ("Ddanddara," a negative Korean word for someone in the entertainment business). Yoon has had a long career - 50 years of singing and performing, starting when she was only 7. Because her father, Yoon Bu-gil, was a popular singer and comedian, she happily followed in his footsteps.

But in June, Yoon announced that she would end her career as a pop singer by recording a commemorative album and holding a concert tour in September. Even with such an enduring career, she has never made an album before, so this retrospective will be Yoon's first and last.

Yoon said, "I don't feel quite right using the word 'retirement.' What I mean is that I'm just not going to perform anymore as a pop singer. I'm still going to perform and sing in musicals, and I expect I will die on stage." Indeed, she has been in four musicals already in this year alone.

While she spoke, Yoon looked as if she were performing on stage, with her hands moving constantly to express her emotions. "I just can't do singing only, separated from acting or performing," she explained. "Maybe this is because I first began as a musical singer with my father, when young." As she spoke, you could see her thinking back to a hazy but sweet memory.

This veteran entertainer, however, is perhaps best-known for being the first Korean woman to ever wear a miniskirt in public, in 1967. In the conservative Korean society at that time Yoon created a sensation, and someone even hit her with an egg.

The woman who wore the provocative miniskirt 34 years earlier was dressed less controversially recently - just black jeans and a grey T-shirt. "Hi there," Yoon greeted loudly (an unusually friendly gesture for a big star). She was eating a ham and egg sandwich with grape juice while taking a break during rehearsals.

Asked about the miniskirt idea, Yoon said, "It was only for a man that I was blindly in love with, nothing more or less."

In the 1960s, Yoon was singing in Las Vegas as part of a girl group called the "Korean Kittens." She spent four years there before she was allowed a vacation - two weeks to return to Korea and see her boyfriend, Yu Ju-yong. "Man, it was four years of separation," Yoon said. "I was desperate to do anything to express how much I loved him."

Before long, she and Yu got married. She was so in love with him that, to stay with him a little longer, she even canceled a chance to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, a wildly popular television show seen on Sunday nights across America.

Since then, Yoon's life has been full of trials and turmoil. She lives alone in an apartment after going through her second divorce. "Loneliness?" she said, "to me, that's a kind of extravagance. While writing songs and scripts, time just flies. I don't have anywhere enough free time to sense that I'm alone."

After rehearsing "I'll Follow You" five times, she returned to her meal and chatted with the interviewer. Without being asked, Yoon said, "The reason that I am living alone without children is that I committed a sin about having a child." Yoon told how when she was performing in Las Vegas her contract specified that she must not become pregnant. After she got married, however, she got pregnant, but had an abortion. "I was totally ignorant of the contraceptive measures," she said in a trembling voice, taking a sip of her lukewarm grape juice.

The Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul is like a home to Yoon, the place where she has spent 20 years as a performer.

Last week she performed the first two concerts in her farewell tour of Korea on the Sejong stage.

"I feel more comfortable up there than at home," she said, before finally finishing her lunch and going back to rehearsing, this time to sing "Yesterday."





Yoon will perform in Kwangju, South Cholla province, on Friday and Sept. 15, and Pusan, on Sept. 21 and 22. For more information, call 02-516-6390.

by Chun Su-jin

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