(ATTN: ADDS portal sites banning comments, planned autopsy at bottom)
SEOUL, Oct. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's iconic actress Choi Jin-sil was found dead in her home in what appears to be a suicide, police said Thursday, amid reports that malicious rumors had weighed heavily on the star.
Choi's mother found the actress, 40, with an elastic band around her neck tied to a shower stall in her home in southern Seoul at 6:15 a.m., officers at the Seocho Police Station said.
"Given the results of an examination that spotted no trace of physical trauma on her body, we concluded that it was a suicide," Yang Jae-ho, a criminal investigations officer at the Seocho Police Station, told reporters.
No suicide note has been found, but Choi sent two text messages to her makeup assistant at around midnight asking her to take care of her two children, Yang said.
Police have been investigating rumors that linked Choi to the recent suicide of Ahn Jae-hwan, an actor and husband to popular comedian Jung Sun-hee. Ahn's large debts from his failing business ventures are believed to be the chief factor behind his death.
Rumors have since circulated on the Web that Choi, a longtime friend of Jung, had lent Ahn a large sum of money. Choi sought a police probe into the source of the rumors, calling them groundless. Police arrested a securities company employee this week on allegations of spreading rumors that Choi lent 2.5 billion won (US$2 million) to Ahn.
The previous day, the actress cancelled a commercial shoot at a Seoul studio halfway through, saying she didn't feel well, according to Sohn Hyun-joo, who co-stars with Choi in the drama series "What Husband and Wife Live By."
"From the moment she came onto the set, she looked very weary. Her face looked really bad and she found it difficult to continue and had to stop after two hours," Sohn said.
Police say Choi came home drunk at around midnight on Wednesday, telling her mother that she was saddened by the people who spread the rumors and that she had nothing to do with the money loaned to Ahn.
Despite her family's objections, prosecutors have decided to conduct an autopsy on Choi as part of their investigation into the swirling rumors surrounding her death.
"As it is an issue of public concern, there could be persistent murmurs if the causes of her death are not fully brought to light," a prosecutor said, requesting anonymity.
Although major Internet portal sites Naver, Daum and Cyworld promptly banned users from posting comments on news stories about Choi, messages linking her to Ahn still appeared after news of her suicide.
Since her debut in 1988 Choi swiftly became a household name, winning awards and clinching main roles in soap operas, movies and commercials. Her cheerful demeanor and versatile talents earned her the nickname "The People's Star."
But her life took a tumultuous turn when her outwardly impeccable marriage to pro baseball player Cho Sung-min ended in an ugly divorce in 2004. The actress had reportedly taken medication for depression since.
Police say Choi had increasingly expressed her intent to die to friends, citing the vicious rumors, as well as the burden of raising her two children, aged 8 and 6, and depression from her divorce.
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