A look at North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

By The Associated Press/April 9, 2009

DISPUTED BIRTH: North Korea says Kim was born Feb. 16, 1942, in a "secret camp" at Mount Paekdu - which has mystical connotations for Koreans and is the highest peak on the Korean peninsula - while his father was an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter. However, many experts believe he was born in the Soviet Union in 1941.

RISE TO POWER: Kim ascended the ranks of the ruling Workers' Party in 1964 after graduating from Kim Il Sung University. His father anointed him as his successor in 1974. Kim took power upon his father's death in 1994 in communism's first hereditary transfer of power. He became supreme commander of the Korean People's Army in 1991, chairman of the National Defense Commission in 1993 and general secretary of the Workers' Party in 1997. He officially became North Korea's leader after being reappointed chairman of the National Defense Commission in 1998 after the constitution was revised to make it the country's top post.

IMAGE: A diminutive 5-foot-3, Kim is known to wear platform shoes. His trademark attire includes khaki jumpsuits and sunglasses, sometimes even inside or after dark. He rarely appears in public; his voice is seldom broadcast. North Korean defectors call him an eloquent and tireless orator, primarily to military units that form his support base. Kim and his father are the focus of an intense official personality cult. Their portraits hang in virtually all homes and public places, people commonly wear lapel pins with their images and their birthdays are the country's most celebrated holidays.

HEALTH: South Korean and U.S. officials say Kim suffered a stroke in August 2008 and underwent brain surgery; North Korea denies it and calls it a smear campaign. He also is believed to have suffered chronic heart disease and diabetes in recent years.

PERSONAL DETAILS: It's widely believed Kim has had three wives and is living now with his former secretary, Kim Ok. He has three known sons - Jong Nam, Jong Chul and Jong Un - but has not named a successor. A movie buff, he is said to own about 20,000 foreign films and reportedly has produced several films himself, mostly historical epics with an ideological tinge. He reputedly has a taste for fine wine, Hennessy cognac, imported caviar, shark's liver and sushi but is said to have cut back on his excesses in recent years and in recent photos appears to have lost considerable weight. He owns yachts, limousines and thoroughbred horses.

Sources: South Korea's Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service, and AP reports.

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