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Arts & Entertainment

Chinese American pop star Coco Lee, who grew up in San Francisco, dies by suicide at 48

Singer Coco Lee arrives at the red carpet for the opening ceremony of the third Hainan Island International Film Festival at Haitang Square on Dec. 5, 2020, in Sanya, China. | Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images | Source: VCGT/VCG via Getty Images

A well-known pop singer in Asia who grew up in San Francisco has died by suicide at age 48, according to social media.

CoCo Lee (李玟), a superstar in the Chinese-speaking world, had been struggling for years with depression. On Sunday, the singer was found unresponsive and rushed to the hospital, her family said on Facebook on Wednesday.

“Despite the best efforts of the hospital team to rescue and treat her from her coma, she finally passed away on 5 July, 2023,” the post said.

Chinese-language media reported that Lee was first found at her Hong Kong home by her mother.

Lee was born in Hong Kong in 1975 and immigrated to San Francisco when she was 9 years old. She attended Presidio Middle School and Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School.

In 1991, Lee was crowned Miss Teenage Chinatown in San Francisco, effectively the beginning of her stardom.

Chinese American pop star CoCo Lee in 1991. | Courtesy Sihong Zhao

Yvonne Lee, the former president of the San Francisco Chinatown Lions Club, the organizer of the teenage pageant, told The Standard she’s saddened by the news. She said that CoCo Lee was a hardworking girl who would come to the training early to be the last one to leave and help out.

Lee later enrolled at University of California Irvine but did not complete her studies, leaving for Hong Kong to pursue a career in music.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of Lee’s singing career.

“In the past 29 years, she’s won countless international acclaim with top-selling songs and has left audiences with an astounding impression of her excellent live performances,” her family’s post stated.

Perhaps the major highlight of her career, particularly for American audiences, was the song “A Love Before Time” from Ang Lee’s 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars. Lee sang it at the 73rd Academy Awards ceremony, making her the first Chinese singer to perform at the Oscars.