Remembering Kim Hwan Sung, The ’90s K-Pop Heartthrob Who Passed Away Suddenly At 19 Years Old
Kim Hwan Sung, often called one of the first “flower boys” of K-Pop, debuted with his group NRG in 1997. NRG, or New Radiancy Hope, was among the most popular first-generation boy groups.
The group’s original lineup consisted of five members, Kim Hwan Sung, Lee Sung Jin, Chun Myung Hoon, Noh Yoo Min, and Moon Sung Hoon. Born in 1981, Kim was the youngest member at just 16 years old at the time of the group’s debut.
From their very first release, NRG sold over 200,000 units in South Korea alone. They won the New Face Award (best new male artist award) at the 1998 SBS Popular Song Awards. One of the pathbreaking things NRG brought into K-Pop was incorporating acrobatic stunts into their choreography. It was unheard of before them, making them worthy rivals of H.O.T., one of the top boy groups at that time. In fact, H.O.T. members Moon Hee Joon and Tony An had revealed that initially, they considered NRG as their professional rivals rather than Sechs Kies.
NRG’s second album, Race, was released in 1998, and it didn’t just outdo the domestic sales numbers but also brought them international fame. With Race, NRG found popularity in Japan and China, leading them to become the first Korean musical act to actively promote in China. Their international appeal is now considered one of the pioneering events of the first wave of Hallyu in the ’90s.
As the group slowly rose to popularity, Kim Hwan Sung gained more and more fans thanks to his heartthrob visuals and impressive performance skills. He kept his hair long, a rarity among male idols at that time, and his delicate facial features, off-stage manners, and reserved nature earned him quite a big entourage of fangirls.
In 1999, Lee Sung Jin departed from the group to pursue an acting career, and Chun Myung Hoon withdrew from being a performer, dedicating his time to creating songs and dance routines for the group instead. NRG became a trio and released their third album NRG 003, as well as a Christmas album Kiss In Christmas, that very year. Within just a few years of debut, the group was on its way to the top when an unexpected tragedy turned everything upside down.
Shortly after wrapping up the promotions for the group’s third album, Hwan Sung got hospitalized, complaining of abdominal pain and high fever. Doctors couldn’t determine what was affecting his health to this degree, and in the following six days, his condition kept worsening. He was diagnosed with malignant viral pneumonia and collapsed into a coma after a few days of hospitalization. The doctors rushed him into emergency surgery to put him on life support, but he was pronounced brain dead. His parents eventually made the difficult decision to put him off life support. On June 15, 2000, Hwan Sung passed away at just 19 years old.
The exact reason for Hwan Sung’s death is unknown till today. The most pronounced speculation is that he might have contracted SARS while promoting in China. Though SARS was noted only in 2003, some believe it existed in China much before that. Since Hwang Sun visited China for his album promotions right before his health went south, people still theorize about this possibility. But all theories remain just theories since his body was cremated on June 17, a day after his passing, eliminating any chance of an autopsy with new technologies.
After his passing, the group went on sporadic hiatuses. They had their first concert in 2001, fulfilling one of the dreams of their late group member. During the show, they paid tribute to Hwan Sung with two songs, “Good Bye My Friend” and “Antonio” (Hwan Sung’s nickname). In 2002, another of Hwan Sung’s wishes came true when NRG got their first music show win with “hit Song.”
In 2004, Moon announced his departure from the group for unspecified reasons. In 2005, the remaining three members decided to go on a hiatus, but later, Lee withdrew from the group for good since he was under investigation over a gambling scandal. Noh and Chun eventually went their separate ways.
In 2016, all members except Moon reunited and released a new album, 20th Century. But it wasn’t until March 2018 that the group saw a real reunion when Moon joined the other three members on the talk show Video Star. It was the first time in thirteen years that all four members were in one frame and spoke about the effect of Kim’s death publicly.
So, where are they now? The four members of NRG?
Lee Sung Jin
After leaving the group due to the gambling scandal, Lee stayed out of the public eye for a really long time. After reuniting with NRG, he made some television appearances, including shows like MBC‘s Human Documentary: Good People, and TVING‘s Free Doctor M. In 2022, Lee announced his marriage to his girlfriend of four years.
In his marriage announcement post, Lee also mentioned that he was planning to start a business and even try out YouTube in the future.
Chun Myung Hoon
Chun remained active in the entertainment industry, becoming a frequently-seen face on TV shows. He was one of the cast members of the 2013 QTV show, Handsome Boys of the 20th Century, where he and other first-generation K-Pop icons who have been active in the industry got together and talked freely about topics that would have been considered “taboo” during their idol days. He is still active as a singer and TV personality. In 2020, he made his trot debut with “Myung Hoon is Going.”
Noh Yoo Min
After completing his mandatory enlistment duties, Noh left the entertainment industry and ventured into business. He currently owns a coffee business called NoUMin Cofe. But he has also continued with his TV show appearances, including MBC’s Human Documentary: Good People along with Chun and Lee, where the three members met their late member Hwan Sung’s parents. In 2014, Noh went viral for his unbelievable weight-loss transformation, and he maintains his unreal physique even now.
Moon Sung Hoon
After leaving the group, Moon disappeared from the group, Moon stayed out of the public eye for a decade until his appearance on the SBS show, Star Couple, in 2012. He was joined by his ex-wife on the show, and they also revealed that they had a son.
According to his latest Instagram posts, he is working on a brand called Pleasure California.
Lee, Chun, and Noh still continue to promote as NRG.