Fans and fellow entertainers across Asia are in mourning after the tragic death of Hong Kong-born singer-songwriter and actress CoCo Lee on Wednesday at the age of 48.
Lee’s sisters Carol and Nancy shared on Instagram that the artist had been suffering for years from depression and had attempted to take her own life on Sunday. She was taken to Hong Kong’s Queen Mary Hospital, where she was unable to be resuscitated from a coma and passed away on July 5.
Lee—who moved to the U.S. as a child and released 18 albums in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English between 1994 and 2013—was perhaps most well-known for being the first Chinese-American to perform at the Oscars, when in 2001 she sang “A Love Before Time” (from the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Lee was reportedly dealing with a number of health issues in recent years and a strained relationship with her husband, Canadian businessman Bruce Rockowitz. But her sudden passing has also brought attention to the state of mental health in Hong Kong, where deaths by suicide have consistently plagued the community—particularly during the recent COVID-19 pandemic and following the civic unrest and political instability caused by the 2020 implementation of a controversial national security law.
Although CoCo sought professional help and did her best to fight depression,” Lee’s sisters wrote in their Instagram post, “sadly that demon inside of her took the better of her.”After news of Lee’s death, fans took to her Weibo page expressing disbelief. “May there be no depression in heaven,” one user wrote.
Several artists have also paid tribute to the late pop star, from action movie star and fellow Hong Konger Jackie Chan to Singaporean singer JJ Lin, who took to Facebook to say, “I wish life could have been gentler on your soul.”
The poor state of mental health in Hong Kong
Lee’s death, albeit caused by a confluence of factors, comes amid increasing concerns in Hong Kong about mental well-being, challenging the city’s new tourism slogan “Happy Hong Kong.”
The city ranked behind 80 countries in the 2022 U.N. World Happiness Report, dropping from 77th the year before, and a 2019 survey from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute and non-government organization MindHK found that 61% of the city’s adult population already has “poor mental well-being.”
In May, a University of Hong Kong (HKU) study found that some 16% of Hong Kongers aged 15-24 have experienced at least one of five mental health disorders—depression, anxiety, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorder—in the past year. Of 3,000 survey respondents, nearly a fifth reported suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months, while 5% and 1.5% had made plans to end their lives or attempted to do so, respectively.