Truth or Fiction? The Strangest Facts and Rumors About North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

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Porta-potties, Disney obsessions, bondage porn and a lot of cheese... These are the wildest stories about the private world of Kim Jong Un. Getty Images/Reuters

This year, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, surprised the world by sitting down with Donald Trump for a historic summit. The two men committed to an agreement to work on mutual "peace and prosperity."

Yet only two weeks later, reports emerged that upgrades at a North Korean nuclear research facility are “continuing at a rapid pace.” So who really is the mysterious North Korean leader, and can we trust anything he says?

With no press freedom in North Korea, it’s hard to verify information about the country’s ruling family. Aside from state propaganda, outsiders are forced to glean information using a patchwork of sources, such as the South Korean spy agency, defectors who once worked for the regime and, of course, Kim Jong Un’s long-time friend, the ex-basketball player Dennis Rodman.

North Korea was founded by Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, and the family has cultivated a dynastic cult of personality. His father Kim Jong Il claimed he could walk at three weeks old, control the weather through the power of thought and was said to employ a servant to inspect every grain of rice served to him.

After he died his son Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s leader, and has also become known for his bizarre behavior. Glimpses into his life paint a fascinating picture of immense wealth and privilege that is not extended to his citizens. The United Nations has accused North Korea of crimes against humanity, including systematic extermination, torture, rape, forced abortions and starvation.

Read more: Truth or Fiction? The Strangest Facts and Rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin

We’ve sifted through the many rumors about Kim Jong Un to try and paint a picture of the notorious despot. From his mysterious birthday to his secret children, these are the strangest things we know—or think we know—about the North Korean leader.

01-young-kim Reuters
Nobody knows how old he is
Neither Kim nor North Korean officials seem interested in clearing up outsider speculation about his birth year, which is believed to be either 1982, 1983 or 1984. This makes him anywhere between 34 and 36—so we do know for sure he’s a millennial. His birthday is believed to fall on January 8, but the Telegraph reports that in previous years he has handed out sweets—a traditional birthday ritual—on January 7.
Reuters
02 wife
He’s married to an ex-cheerleader
According to CNN, Kim is believed to have married the then-23-year-old Ri Sol Ju in 2009. However the public didn't know about the marriage until 2012, a year after she made her first appearance accompanying Kim Jong Un to his father's funeral. Ri studied singing in China and visited South Korea in 2005 as a member of North Korea's cheer squad. She was also a member of an orchestra before her marriage. It’s believed she is from an upper-class family; her father is a professor and her mother is an obstetrician.
Reuters/KCNA
03 Hyon Song-wol YouTube
His ex-girlfriend is a local pop sensation...
Before his wife’s identity was known, South Korean media speculated that she was another North Korean singer, Hyon Song-wol, whose pop group found fame in North Korea in the early 2000s. It’s easy to see why Kim was a fan—her hit songs include "I Love Pyongyang" and "We are Troops of the Party," as well as the bizarrely-titled "Excellent Horse-Like Lady." Many news outlets speculate that they were once romantically linked.
Youtube
04 Hyon Song-wol
...She was rumored to have been killed, but now she is the most influential women in North Korea
Their romance didn't work out, and Hyon was even falsely rumored to have been executed by firing squad in 2013 for making pornographic videos, according to The Telegraph. She reappeared alive the next year and since seems to have made a comeback—even though she didn't marry Kim, Business Insider called her “the most influential women in North Korea” earlier this year.
Korea Pool/Getty Images
05 pregnant
He hides his children
We appreciate a parent’s desire for privacy in the age of information, but Kim takes this to the next level. We heard in 2017 that his third child was born, but only through the endeavours of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, who didn't manage to find out the child’s name or gender. It’s believed that Kim’s first child was a boy, born in 2010, while the second was a daughter, born in 2013. This second child is called Ju-ae, according to basketball player Dennis Rodman, who claimed to have held the baby shortly after her birth.
Reuters/Kyodo
06 uncle
He had his uncle killed
Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was described by insiders as a fun-loving prankster who often brought a “pleasure squad” of young, attractive women to banquets. Yet Jang met a gruesome end—in late 2013 he was arrested live on state TV and taken to be executed for allegedly trying to overthrow his nephew. Announcing his execution, North Korea said Jang was “human scum worse than a dog,” in a statement released through the country’s official news agency. Although the reports that Jang was stripped naked and fed to a 120 wild dogs are untrue, it’s still a brutal and sudden end.
Reuters/Kyodo
07 Kim Jong Nam
His older brother chose Disneyland over leadership
By rights, Kim shouldn’t have inherited rulership at all—he is his father’s third son. His oldest half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, lived in exile in Macau for years. A graduate of a Swiss boarding school, he was widely seen as too Westernized for the nationalistic North Korea after being caught trying to travel to Disneyland with a forged Dominican Republic passport in 2001.
Reuters
08 Kim Jong nam
Some think he had Kim Jong Nam killed
He was killed in 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, using VX, the deadliest nerve agent ever created. South Korean intelligence officials say the plot was orchestrated by Kim Jong Un, a claim denied by Pyongyang.
Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
09 assassination
He is reportedly even more bloodthirsty than his father...
South Korean officials said in 2015 that Kim had executed about 70 officials in his first four years in power. This is far more than the 10 people killed by his father, Kim Jong-il, over during his first years as leader.
REUTERS/Jung Yeon-je/Pool
10 assassination
...And more inventive in his murdering
In 2014, The Telegraph reported that O Sang-hon, a deputy minister at the Ministry of Public Security, was "executed by flamethrower." They also reported that in 2012, a vice minister of the army was executed with a mortar round for drinking and carousing during the official mourning period after Kim Jong-il's death.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Image
11 Kim Jong Chul
His second-oldest brother was seen as too girly to rule...
The second brother, Kim Jong Chul, was passed over because Kim Jong Il believed him to be "no good because he is like a little girl," according to Kim Jong Il's personal chef. A South Korean intelligence worker has even said that Kim Jong Chul suffers from an excess of female hormones following a car accident.
Park Ji-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images