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Who is North Korea's secretive Kim Jong Un? Here is what we know

VICE via Reuters file

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Feb. 28.

North Korean media calls Kim Jong Un "the greatest-ever commander." Dennis Rodman says he is "a normal guy."

Neither description seems fitting, but little is known about the third-generation leader now locked in a showdown with the U.S. and South Korea that some fear could lead to war.

Before Kim took over from his father, Kim Jong Il, he had barely been seen in public. And even though he's been in charge for more than a year, there's been only a trickle of information about his personality and habits.

The most recent details about the man threatening to send missiles to the U.S. come from Rodman, who made a trip to Pyongyang earlier this year. Here are some tidbits about Kim that have emerged outside the North Korean propaganda machine:

He shares a birthday with Elvis Presley ... maybe: Kim has been reported to be somewhere between 29 and 30 years old. But Kenji Fujimoto, a sushi chef who worked for his family until 2001 and later wrote a tell-all, claims he was born Jan. 8, 1983 — the same date as The King.

KCNA via Reuters file

Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol-Ju last July.

He has a first lady: North Korean media revealed Kim was married last July when it announced his fashionable female companion at the opening of an amusement park was his wife, Ri Sol-ju. No one is certain when they tied the knot or whether they have children. South Korean media say she's a former cheerleader and singer. 

He was educated in the West: Kim attended a state school in Switzerland from 1998 to 2000, posing as a diplomat's son named Pak Un, according to the Washington Post. "I never saw his father or mother," Principal Peter Burri told the paper. Another official described him as "well-integrated, diligent, ambitious." Kim reportedly later attended the Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang, named after his grandfather.

He's crazy about basketball: He idolized Michael Jordan and was no slouch on the court himself. One high-school buddy described him as "explosive" and a "playmaker." Another said he was fiercely competitive: "He hated to lose."


Kim Jong Un and his iMac.

He's brand-conscious: Teenage buddies recalled he had a collection of expensive Nike sneakers. A recent photo of him plotting military action against the U.S. showed an Apple iMac computer on his desk. His wife supposedly carries a Dior clutch, though some think it's a knock-off.

His hairstyle is unsanctioned: North Korea reportedly has 28 "recommended" hairstyles for its people. Kim's 'do — shaved on the sides, floppy on top — is not among them, according to a Hong Kong TV network that obtained photos of the approved looks.

He's a song-and-dance man: High-school classmates told London's Daily Telegraph his favorite song was "Brother Louie" by the German pop duo Modern Talking. Rodman told London's Sun that Kim digs 1980s disco. "There was an all-girl band playing and we were definitely getting down," Rodman said of their visit.

KCNA via Reuters

Kim Jong Un looks at a photo of his grandfather Kim Il Sung last month.

He's a heavyweight: South Korea's Yonhap news agency has reported that after the 2004 death of his mother from cancer, Kim went on a drinking and eating binge, ballooning to almost 200 pounds. He remains plump in a country ravaged by famine and suffers from diabetes and hypertension.

He's a chip off the old block: Kim looks so much like his grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, that North Korea's official news agency had to deny rumors he had gone under the knife. Analysts say he hoped to model himself on his grandfather, who was more liked by his people than Kim's much-feared father.

The youngest son of Kim Jong Il succeeded his late father in 2011, becoming the third member of his family to rule the unpredictable and reclusive communist state.


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