Kim Jong-il, the reclusive dictator who kept North Korea at the edge of starvation and collapse, banished to gulags citizens deemed disloyal and turned the country into a nuclear weapons state, died Saturday, according to North Korean state news media.
Called the “Dear Leader” by his people, Mr. Kim, the son of North Korea’s founder, remained an unknowable figure. Everything about him was guesswork, from the exact date and place of his birth to the cause of his death to the mythologized events of his rise in a country formed by the hasty division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II.
North Koreans heard about him only as their “peerless leader” and “the great successor to the revolutionary cause.” Yet he fostered what was perhaps the last personality cult in the Communist world. His portrait hangs beside that of his father, Kim Il-sung, in every North Korean household and building. Towers, banners and even rock faces across the country bear slogans praising him.