[ENTERTAINMENT]Fallen pop star is trying to go straight

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Fallen pop star is trying to go straight

With a heavy clank, the door to the solitary room opened, revealing a haggard-looking figure squatting in a corner. Nobody would believe that this man in loose, white patient's pajamas was the pioneer of Korea's hip-hop movement, Hyun Jin-young. Known as the "Dancing King" back in the early '90s, Hyun hasn't been seen on a stage for ages. Now he's in the isolation ward at Suncheonhyang University Hospital in Hannam-dong, Seoul, in a drug rehabilitation program.

Hyun, now 31, has been arrested for drug use four times - in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1998 - first for marijuana, later for methamphetamines, or philopon. He has been almost totally forgotten by his former fans, and is known now as a scandal-stained has-been.

"Once you become hooked on drugs, there is no easy way to quit," Hyun said from his hospital room. "It's just like being constantly haunted by a ghost that drives you to a dead end. Every single thing about reality bothers you. You always need something more and more stimulating, and in the end you're confusing reality with illusions."

Having taken the first steps to reverse his slide, Hyun wants to revive his career as well. In January he released a new album and announced that he would clean up his act. Instead of promoting the disk by appearing on TV programs, he checked himself into the hospital. Since then he's been getting counseling from psychiatrists and begun a vigorous exercise regimen. When he checked into the hospital, he was verging on obesity.

Skeptics have branded Hyun's hospitalization a publicity ploy. But Hyun says that's nonsense, pointing out that he's lost 17 kilograms in only 50 days. He insisted that he's improved psychologically as well.

His biggest supporter through his recent trials is a 24-year-old actress and model, Oh Seo-un, whom he met last year at a health club. "She is the one who made this plan," Hyun said, looking fondly at Oh by his side.

While Hyun seems to be back on his feet, the local entertainment scene has been shocked of late by a series of scandals, some involving unlikely figures. One was Hwang Su-jeong, a TV actress with a wholesome and innocent image. Hyun calls the number of celebrities who've been exposed as drug users just "the tip of the iceberg."

Hyun first found himself incarcerated in 1991 after he was convicted for using marijuana. Speaking about jail life, he said he was shocked to see that many of the inmates were essentially a gang of drug dealers. "They were sharing experiences and phone numbers, and giving tips on how to elude the police," he said.

One of the inmates he befriended during that first stretch became a big drug dealer after being released, and Hyun got involved with philopon through him. "Without programs to reform inmates, drug users put in jail just learn how to be drug users again on the outside," he said.

Hyun plans to leave the hospital early next month, after which he'll volunteer for anti-drug work. He's confident he won't yield to drugs again. But he said nobody knows what will happen, "especially after you've tasted the forbidden fruit." But for now he seems determined to dance to a purer tune.

by Lee Sang-bok

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