SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Song Hae, a South Korean TV presenter who was beloved for decades as the warm-humored emcee of a nationally televised singing contest, has died at the age of 95.
He died Wednesday at his home in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, according to the Seoul National University Hospital. Hospital officials didn’t specify the cause of death.
Song in recent media interviews had complained about a slow recovery from COVID-19 after being diagnosed with the illness in March and expressed a desire to leave KBS TV’s “National Singing Contest,” the weekly show he emceed for more than three decades.
KBS had been reportedly trying to persuade Song to stay as it resumed new recordings for the show last week. The program mostly relied on reruns since early 2020 because of pandemic restrictions that prevented large gatherings.
Born in 1927 in what is now the North Korean town of Jaeryong, Song was among the possibly millions of North Korean refugees who escaped to the South during the 1950-53 Korean War.
He began his career in the entertainment industry as a singer later in the 1950s but made his breakthrough as a comedian, becoming a mainstay in TV and radio shows as a cuddly personality who peppered guests with wisecracks and jokes.
Song had emceed “National Singing Contest” since 1988. The show, which airs on Sundays at noon, visits cities and towns across the country hosting amateur singing competitions. Song’s longevity with the program cemented his status as a broadcast icon. He has a street named after him in the heart of Seoul and there’s a “Song Hae Park” in the southern city of Daegu.
Song is survived by two daughters. The Seoul National University Hospital set up a mourning hall for Song for a three-day funeral procession that continues through Friday.