There are multiple conflicting reports circling around about the health status of the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. A former South Korean official, Chang Song-min, who worked as an aide to the late South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, has alleged that the North Korean leader is in a coma, telling South Korean media: “I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended,” according to the New York Post.
This report comes on the heels of months of speculation about the leader’s health due to his limited public appearances. In April, CNN and other media outlets reported that Kim Jong Un was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery.
Because it is notoriously difficult to get news from inside the country, a lot of what is known is based on propaganda video and state media. One thing that’s been confirmed by North Korean state media is that Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea since his father’s death in 2011, is married to Ri Sol Ju and has been for about a decade.
Here’s what you need to know about Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju:
1. The Two Are Believed to Have Married in 2009, Although It Was Only Reported by North Korean State Media in 2012
In July 2012, the BBC reported that North Korean state media confirmed that Kim Jong Un was married. In an eight-minute radio broadcast, it mentioned that the leader was at an event with his wife, “Comrade Ri Sol-ju.” The BBC reported that an analyst named Cheong Seong-chang told the South Korean Korea Times newspaper that the two married in 2009.
“The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il arranged his youngest son’s marriage in a hurry after suffering a stroke in 2008,” Cheong told the publication.
2. The Couple Is Believed to Have 3 Children Together
Very little is known about the first family of Korea. Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju are believed to have three children together, although there could be more or less since details of their private lives are few and far between, and Ri Sol Ju frequently disappears from the public eye.
According to a Newsweek report, Ri Sol Ju first gave birth to a son in 2010 after the couple was married in 2009. This was shared by analyst Cheong Seong-chang. Others are skeptical of the report, especially the claim that the baby is male, since some experts say that Kim Jong Un would likely publicly announce the birth of a baby.
Dennis Rodman, a retired NBA star, became friends with the leader on a basketball trip to North Korea. He shared that on a return visit in 2013, he met Kim Jong Un and his wife as well as their baby daughter, who was not yet known to the public at the time. He told The Guardian, “I held their baby Ju Ae and spoke with Ri as well. He’s a good dad and has a beautiful family.”
In 2017, there were news and rumors that Ri Sol Ju had given birth to another child, possibly their third according to Newsweek.
3. She Took on a Diplomatic Role in the Last Couple of Years & Her Title Changed to ‘Respected First Lady’
The wife of the North Korean leader has been in and out of the public eye since their marriage in 2009. Between 2012 and 2014, she accompanied the leader to many engagements, but in the next few years, she often disappeared from the public eye for months, leading to intense speculation.
In 2018, she took on a more important diplomatic role than in previous years. In March 2018, she accompanied her husband on a visit to China and met Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife. She also attended the April 2018 inter-Korean summit and met the wife of the South Korean President. Before that summit, her title was officially changed from “Comrade” to “respected First Lady,” the first time that title had been used in over 40 years.
4. Ri Sol Ju & Her Family Are Said to Be Educated & From the Country’s Political Elite
Not much is known about the North Korean First Lady’s early life. She’s believed to be between 30 and 35 years old depending on sources, with 31 or 32 the most frequently mentioned. According to many reports, her family is educated and belongs to the political elite of the country. Her mother is the head of a gynecology unit at a local hospital and her father is a professor at a university.
Ri Sol Ju also apparently has an education, graduating from Geumsung 2 Middle School in Pyongyang and studying music abroad in China. Another report states that she was a graduate student at Kim Il-sung University and pursued a Ph.D. in science. This information has not been confirmed by official sources.
5. Some Commentators Believe That Ri Sol Ju Used to Be a Singer & Entertainer
The details of Ri Sol Ju’s life before her marriage to Kim are hazy, but some political analysts believe that she used to be a singer and entertainer. There is a North Korean performer with the same name as Ri Sol Ju, but the country has never officially confirmed that they are the same person.
The Choson Ilbo newspaper reported that a singer with the same name was a performer with the Eunhasu Orchestra until 2011. They also said that footage from a North Korean TV broadcast in January 2011 shows the singer, and there is a striking resemblance to Kim Jong Un’s wife.
South Korean lawmaker Jung Chung-rai also shared information about Ri Sol Ju, saying intelligence agents believed that she may have visited South Korea in 2005 as a member of the country’s cheerleading team. South Korean news agency Yonhap also wrote that she is likely to have “participated in several inter-Korean exchange programmes,” specifically three events between 2003 and 2005 attended by someone from North Korea with the same name.