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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) : Daily News in English About Korea

Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) : Daily News in English About KoreaLonely Death of Last Heir to Korea’s Imperial Throne

Divorced and without children, citizen Yi Gu was found in a guest room at the Akasaka Prince Hotel in Tokyo, the time (Saturday) and cause (heart attack) of his death at present only estimates. On Tuesday morning, Japanese prosecutors performed an autopsy.

But Gu (b. 1931) was Korea’s last imperial prince, the son of Crown Prince Eun (1887-1970) and Princess Bang-ja (1901-1989) and the final heir to the Chosun Dynasty's imperial mantle. His life’s ups and downs closely followed the fortunes of modern Korean history. At his birth in Tokyo, his father was king in name only of a country that no longer existed. Receiving a modern education in Japan, he was 14 when Korea was liberated but could not return home, because the new powers no longer wanted him.

He got help from U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Allied occupation forces in Japan. In 1950, he went to MIT to study architecture. Working for a New York firm of architects after graduation, he met Julia Mullock, a woman five years his senior, and married her in a church in New York in October 1958.

After the fall of Syngman Rhee, he returned to Korea in 1963 with the help of the new president Park Chung-hee, moving into the Nakseon Hall of the Changdeok Palace with his mother, Princess Bang-ja. He lectured on architecture at Seoul National University and Yonsei University and also ran a business. When that went bankrupt in 1979, he went to Japan to earn money. In 1982 his wife divorced him; his mother died in 1989. He ended up living with a Japanese astrologer.

In November 1996, he made what he hoped would be his permanent return to Korea. "From now on, I'm just Yi Gu, with no connection to the royal family,” he said at the time. But it was not to last. Showing signs of a nervous breakdown, he was unable to adjust to life in the motherland. Restlessly going back and fourth between Japan and Korea, he eventually died abroad. His funeral has been scheduled for July 24.

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