By Lee Hyo-won
Veteran comedian Baek Nam-bong (real name Park Du-sik) passed away Thursday morning after battling lung cancer. He was 71.
In 2008, cancer cells were detected while he was being treated for pleurisy. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and was receiving treatment in a rehabilitation center in Gyeonggi Province. He was recently hospitalized at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul as his condition had worsened.
"His condition took a serious turn beginning Wednesday evening", said the hospital staff.
Baek had smoked four packs of cigarettes a day for 30 years and suffered from various respiratory problems. He finally quit smoking in 1988 and recovered his health, and even became the honorary ambassador for an anti-smoking campaign in 2004.
His illness came as a surprise for many, because he was famous for being extremely fit for his age. He rode a bicycle for two to three hours every day, earning the nickname "bicycle missionary", and was a striker for an amateur football squad during weekends. In 2007 he became the face for the National Council of Sport for All.
"After he quit smoking he worked out harder than anyone else and pursued a healthy lifestyle, and it is unfortunate that he passed away like this", said a younger comedian.
Born in 1939 as Park Du-sik, Baek began his comedy career in a Seoul theater in 1967 and debuted on television two years later. He was a household name through the 1970s thanks to his trademark one-man show, offering a colorful array of gags ranging from witty jokes to physical farce and vocal mimicry. He was a pioneer in expanding the horizons of the gagman during a time when group-based narrative comedies were in vogue.
"He was the only one who did standup comedy 30 years ago. We can't get close to mimicking the way he entertained the audience for 20, 30 minutes all by himself using personal tricks", said gagman Lee Bong-won.
Baek was particularly loved for his vocal mimicry, in which he imitated not only people but also non-living things. He was also famous for his command of all sorts of dialects across the Korean Peninsula.
In 2000 he received presidential honors at the Korean Entertainment Awards, and regularly appeared on TV programs until his condition deteriorated. In 2005 he even released an album.
Baek is survived by his wife Lee Sun-ok and daughter Park Yun-heui, a figure skater-turned-reporter.
His funeral hall will be set up at Samsung Medical Center.
Veteran comedian Baek Nam-bong (1939-2010)
원로 코미디언 백남봉 별세
원로 코미디언 백남봉(본명 박두식)이 별세했다.
고 백남봉은 29일 오전 8시40분 서울 일원동 삼성서울병원에서 향년 71세를 일기로 타계했다.
고 백남봉의 측근은 이날 오전 아시아경제신문과 통화에서 "고인이 오늘 오전 돌아가셨다. 장례절차 등을 가족들과 협의 중에 있다"고 말했다.
고인은 지난 2008년 폐암으로 수술을 받은 뒤 경기도 광주의 한 요양병원에서 요양하다 최근 폐렴증세가 악화돼 일주일 전부터 삼성서울병원 중환자실에 입원해 치료를 받아왔다.
그러나 백남봉이 의식불명에 빠졌다는 소문에 딸 박윤희 씨 등 가족과 측근들은 힘겹게 호흡을 하고 있지만 한번도 의식불명인 적은 없다고 부인했고 팬들도 함께 쾌차를 염원했다.
하지만 28일밤부터 갑자기 상태가 악화돼 위기를 맞았고 29일 오전 세상과 이별했다.
1969년 TBC 라디오 '장기자랑'을 통해 방송에 데뷔한 고인은 구수한 목소리와 넉살좋은 입담, 성대모사 등으로 원맨쇼의 일인자로 불리며 당대 최고의 인기를 구가했다.
유족으로는 아내 이순옥 씨와 피겨스케이팅 출신 배우와 MC로 활약하고 있는 딸 박윤희 씨가 있다.