The late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il suffered from chronic pain and feared he would become addicted to painkillers, according to his former personal chef. The 69-year old Kim died Saturday of heart failure.
Little is known of Kim’s health while he was alive. It was rumored he suffered from heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In 2008, Kim dropped out of sight for several months and there was widespread speculation he suffered a stroke. Kim re-emerged in public appearances looking thin and frail.
One of the few outsiders allowed into the private world of the reclusive and secretive Kim was Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef. Fujimoto served as the North Korean leader’s personal chef from 1988 to 2001 and wrote about his experiences in the 2003 book “Kim Jong Il’s Chef.”
Kim was an avid equestrian, according to Fujimoto, and even appeared in a TV movie riding a snow-white horse. “I often accompanied him on long rides,” wrote Fujimoto.
In 1992, Fujimoto was riding behind the North Korean leader when he came upon Kim’s horse standing on the trail by itself. Kim had fallen off the horse and “hit his head and shoulder quite hard and had fallen unconscious.”
Doctors were summoned and Kim regained consciousness, but his injuries caused him great pain. He turned to painkillers for relief.
”From that day, every evening at 10:00 P.M. for the next month, five or six of his administrative staff members and I would be injected with the same painkiller that Kim Jong Il was taking,” wrote Fujimoto. “He was afraid he would become addicted to it, and didn’t want to be the only one.”
It wouldn’t be the only time that a paranoid Kim used his staff as guinea pigs. Fujimoto wrote that Kim had an “exceptionally discriminating palate” and loved to try new foods and foreign cuisine. But he insisted that his staff sample the food and drink first, to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.
Kim sent Fujimoto around the world to bring back local delicacies, including caviar from Iran, pork from Denmark and draft beer from Czechoslovakia. It was on a trip to Japan to prepare a sea urchin dish for Kim that Fujimoto decided to stay in his native country and never to return to North Korea.