Who was the real Kim Jong-il?

Gaby Leslie

Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea for 17 years, but the isolationist nature of the state means that for many the lingering impression they have of the dictator is as a lonely wooden puppet with a speech impediment and hunger for world domination – as he was depicted in the 2004 film ‘Team America: World Police’.

As the people of North Korea bid a final farewell to Kim Jong-il, we take a look at some of the lesser-known facts about North Korea’s “Dear Leader”.

He had a ‘supernatural’ birth

North Korean legend has it that Kim, 69, was born at a secret military camp on Mount Paekdu, one of Korea's most cherished sites, in 1942. According to a bespoke piece of literature, at the time of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons changed from winter to spring and a double rainbow appeared.

However, Soviet records state he was actually born in 1941 in Siberia while his father Kim Il-Sung was hiding from the Japanese.


A chain smoker, sports fan and heavy drinker, the North Korean leader was also said to be a James Bond lover and avid film fanatic. With over 20,000 movies in Kim’s library, a South Korean filmmaker claimed that Kim had once kidnapped him and his actress wife in the late 1970s, and ferried them back to isolated North Korea to make movies for him for a decade, including a rip-off ‘Godzilla’.

Bizarrely, a satellite photograph shows that Kim Jong-il built waterslides at his personal mansions and North Korean state television has said that he is the best golfer in history – shooting a 30 under par, complete with a stunning 11-holes-in-one the first time an 18-hole golf course was opened in North Korea in 1994. North Korean official records also claim that as well as running a whole country, the talented Jong-il wrote six operas in just two years. Impressive!

[Gallery: Kim Jong-Il's life in photos]


Human rights record

When Kim Jong-il seized power in North Korea following his father’s death in 1984, he adopted his father’s hard-line stance and “military first” policy. Despite a prolonged deadly famine in the country, the dictator devoted much of North Korea’s resources into building the world’s fifth-largest military and nuclear weapons much to the dismay of the United Nations and western world.

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As leader of the Korean Worker’s party, he was linked to terrorist activities in South Korea, who accused Kim of masterminding a 1983 bombing that killed 17 South Korean officials visiting Burma. In 1987, the bombing of a Korean Air Flight killed all 115 people on board, a North Korean agent who confessed to planting the device said Kim ordered the downing of the plane himself, but never waged any wars against other countries.

A fashion trendsetter

Clad in his trademark bug-eyed shades, the 5ft 3in Kim Jong-il was quite the trendsetter. Renowned for his sartorial choices from his khaki jumpsuits, bouffant hairstyle to four-inch platform heels (to boost his height) the eccentric leader was every caricaturist’s dream.

He was very rich

According to a former Russian presidential envoy, who once travelled with the dictator, Kim Jong-il led a lavish lifestyle – and had a passion for fine wine and dining. In his memoirs, the presidential envoy described how North Korea's brutal leader was afraid of flying, so instead took a 16-car private train through Russia stocked up with crates of French wine and lobsters.

A Japanese cook, who worked as Kim's personal sushi chef for a decade, claimed that Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles. He also spent his money in the starving country wisely. It is reported that at one point in time he was the world’s biggest buyer of Hennessey, forking out an average $750,000 (£480,000) a year on Hennessy VSOP cognac.

South Korean intelligence officials told the Sunday Telegraph that he kept a $4bn (£2.6bn) emergency fund in European banks should he have needed to flee North Korea and maintain the lifestyle he had become accustomed to.

He was really a control freak

With westernised influences like takeaway fast food banned in the secretive and isolated North Korea, Kim Jong-il apparently had to get past this by creating his very own hamburger. North Korean newspaper Minju Joson reported that Kim Jong-il invented a new sandwich called ‘double bread with meat’ in an attempt to provide quality food to university students. He then built a plant capable of mass hamburger production to feed academics despite the fact that the majority of North Koreans battle famine on a daily basis.

A biography on the North Korean state Website also said that King Jong-il never needed to defecate. According to Kim's former tutor, who's now living in exile in Virginia, in 1989, he had a dislike for disabled and short people. In preparation for the ‘World Festival of Youth and Students’ in the capital Pyongyang in 1989, the government distributed leaflets advertising a wonder drug that would increase the height of short people.

Those who responded to the leaflets were sent away to different uninhabited islands along with the disabled in an attempt to rid the next generation of their supposedly substandard genes.