The mysterious, cult-like Kim family that has ruled North Korea for three generations appears to be a dysfunctional clan rife with poisonings, brutal executions, exiles and unexplained disappearances.
Here are the key members of current leader Kim Jong Un’s family tree:
Kim II Sung
Kim Il Sung rose to power as a Soviet-backed guerrilla fighter who resisted the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the 1930s. He founded the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea in 1948 and was its leader until his death in 1994. Kim established a ruling ideology known as juche that mixes state-run economic policies of Marxism with fervent nationalism.
Kim, known as the “Eternal President,” created a propaganda system that made him a cult figure and isolated North Koreans from the outside world. Hundreds of statues honor Kim, who had six children with two wives, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, a blog about the family.
Kim Jong Suk
Kim Jong Suk was Kim’s first wife and mother to future North Korean leader Kim Jong II.
Kim Jong Suk hosted dinners for visiting Soviet officials and was skilled with a rifle and a horse, according to North Korea Leadership Watch.
She died at age 32 as a result of “the hardships she had endured during years spent as a guerrilla fighter,” according to the official account of her death. However, Kim Jong Suk most likely died in childbirth, according to the blog.
Kim Song Ae
A few years after her death, Kim married Kim Song Ae, a secretary with whom he may have been having an affair.
Kim Song Ae had three children and wielded significant political clout in North Korea during the 1960s and 1970s, but she fell out of favor after her stepson — Kim Jong II — was designated Kim’s official successor.
Kim Song Ae’s life may have ended in a psychiatric hospital, according to a 2012 report from New Focus, a website about North Korea. Other reports said she died in a car crash in Beijing.
Kim Jong II
North Korea’s second leader was born Yuri Irsenovich Kim in Siberia.
He inherited the reins after his father’s death, a time when North Korea’s economy was in crisis and the country was struggling with a severe famine that killed an estimated 2 million to 3 million people. The new leader made some moves to improve international ties, such as agreeing to dismantle an embryonic nuclear program in return for outside help.
He later reneged on these commitments and presided over North Korea’s first nuclear missile test in 2006.
Kim assumed the title “Dear Leader” and cultivated the myth that he was born in a secret military camp on an active volcano on the border between North Korea and China. He also said his birth coincided with the appearance of a double rainbow in the sky.
He was a big movie fan who had accumulated a collection of 30,000 films by the time of his death in 2011 from a heart attack at age 70.
Jang Song Thaek
Jang Song Thaek was a key member of Kim Jong II’s inner circle. He was married to Kim’s sister and viewed as a close adviser, perhaps even a mentor, to Kim’s son and future leader Kim Jong Un.
He helped steer the country as Kim Jong II’s health deteriorated and after his death. Jang didn’t last long. He was accused of trying to overthrow the government and executed by his nephew’s regime in 2013, according to a Chinese state-run newspaper, Wen Wei Po. Italleged that Jang met an especially grisly end: stripped naked and fed to a pack of starving dogs. The account was subsequently debunked by other media.
Around the time of Jang’s death, North Korean state media described him as “despicable human scum — worse than a dog.”
Children of Ko Yong Hui
Kim Jong II had at least seven children from four wives and possibly an additional mistress or two, according to North Korea Leadership Watch. His favorite was a dancer and daughter of a professional Japanese wrestler named Ko Yong Hui.
Ko gave birth to three of Kim Jong II’s children: Kim Jong Chol (1981), Kim Jong Un (1983) and Kim Yo Jong (1989). Not much is known about Kim Jong Chol except that he studied in Switzerland and was last spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in London in 2015, according to video footage of him at the Royal Albert Hall. Thae Yong-ho, a former diplomat from the North who defected to South Korea, claimed Kim Jong Chol lives a quiet life in Pyongyang, but that has not been confirmed.
Last month, Kim Yo Jong, 28, was promoted to a new post in North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, according to the official state Korean Central News Agency. Accounts published in South Korean media suggest Kim Yo Jong is behind leader Kim Jong Un’s attempts to improve his public image by visiting schools and factories and may have encouraged his unlikely friendship with basketball star Dennis Rodman.
Kim Jong Nam
Kim Jong II’s eldest son, Kim Jong Nam was born in 1971 to Song Hye Rim, an actress who later fled to Europe and died in Moscow in 2002.
Kim Jong Nam, the current leader’s half-brother, at one time was considered Kim Jong II’s heir apparent. But he was shunned by the Kim family after he was arrested in Tokyo while traveling on a forged Dominican passport. He claimed he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He also was an advocate for reform and had criticized North Korea’s leadership.
In February, Kim Jong Nam died in a chemical poison attack while transiting through Malaysia’s main airport. Authorities there suspect his assassination may have been ordered by his half-brother.Two women who killed him using a lethal nerve agent currently are on trial in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.
Kim Han Sol
The 22-year-old is the eldest son of Kim Jong Nam and grandson of Kim Jong II.
Kim Han Sol is one of the few remaining bloodlines to the Kim hereditary dynasty and has been on the run since his father was killed by suspected North Korean operatives.
Like his father, he, too, appears to be reform-minded. “I’ve always dreamed that one day I would go back and make things better, and make things easier for the people back there,” Kim Han So told Finnish television in 2012.
Kim Jong Un
Few confirmed biographical details exist about North Korea’s current “Supreme Leader,” believed to be in his early 30s, who took over in 2011. Much of what is known about him comes from accounts by teachers and students who knew him when he studied in Europe as a child.
Some accounts say he was born in 1983, others a year later. North Korea Leadership Watch says he is approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 198 pounds. The blog says that he may have deliberately put on extra weight to appear more imposing to his enemies. Other reports suggest his weight may be due to binge-eating cheese.
He has also been reported to be a smoker and whiskey drinker since the age of 15.
According to one account cited by North Korea Leadership Watch, Kim attended a military academy where he specialized in artillery.
He has been described as “very civilized and intelligent,” “a cool-headed personality” and possessing “strong political instincts,” according to the blog.
Ri Sol Ju
In 2012, North Korean State media announced that Kim was married to Ri Sol Ju, a former singer whom he may have noticed during a performance. She might be 27, although it’s not even clear if Ri Sol Ju is her real name.
The couple are often photographed waving to crowds and making official visits. They may have as many as three children, including at least one daughter named Kim Ju Ae.
The only source of the daughter’s name is Dennis Rodman.
“Marshal Kim and I had a relaxing time by the sea with his family,” Rodman told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2013 after visiting the country. “I held their baby Ju Ae and spoke with Ms. Ri (Sol Ju) as well. He’s a good dad and has a beautiful family.”
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