Coco Lee: Hong Kong-born Disney and pop star dies aged 48

She was one of the first Chinese artists to break into the US market and voiced the heroine in the Mandarin version of Mulan

Coco Lee in 2016. The star died on Wednesday. AP
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Coco Lee, the Hong Kong-born singer who had a highly successful career in Asia, died on Wednesday. She was 48.

The star had lived with depression for several years, Lee’s elder sisters Carol and Nancy said, with her condition deteriorating drastically over the last few months.

“Although Coco sought professional help and did her best to fight depression, sadly that demon inside of her took the better of her,” they said.

Lee attempted suicide at her home over the weekend and she was rushed to hospital, her sister said. She was in a coma and died on Wednesday.

Born Ferren Lee in Hong Kong, the artist later moved to the US and attended middle and high school in San Francisco.

She became a singer after being declared the first runner-up in an annual singing competition held by broadcaster TVB in Hong Kong and she released her first album in 1994 at the age of 19.

Though Lee initially started off as a Mandopop singer, she later branched out to release albums in Cantonese and English over her three-decade career. She was best known for her powerful voice and live performances.

“Coco is also known to have worked tirelessly to open up a new world for Chinese singers in the international music scene, and she went all out to shine for the Chinese,” her sisters said. “We are proud of her.”

She was also the first Chinese singer to break into the American market and her English song Do You Want My Love charted at No 4 on Billboard's Hot Dance Breakouts chart in December 1999.

Lee was the voice of heroine Fa Mulan in the Mandarin version of Disney’s Mulan, and also sang the Mandarin version of the film's theme song Reflection.

In 2011, Lee married Bruce Rockowitz, a Canadian businessman who is the former chief executive of Hong Kong supply chain company Li & Fung. While she had two stepdaughters from her marriage with Rockowitz, Lee didn’t have children of her own.

In Lee's most recent Instagram post, dated December 31, 2022, she shared several pictures of herself, including tattoos of the words “love” and “faith”, as well as a picture of what appears to be a drainage bag taped to her body.

“Love & Faith – my two favourite words that I carry strongly in my heart which I desperately needed to get through this incredibly difficult year,” she wrote in the caption.

“Life seemed unbearable at times but I adapted the attitude of a 'female warrior' to face them head on fearlessly," the caption read.

In March, she posted about having to relearn how to walk after undergoing surgery for an old leg injury that was triggered after going overboard during a dance practice in October last year.

“Successful surgery. Even though I’m in a lot of pain and I have to re-learn how to walk again, I know I can do it," she wrote in a Facebook post. "Yes I can and I will!”

Mandopop singer-songwriter Wang Leehom paid tribute to Lee in an Instagram post, describing her as the “biggest star" who everyone wanted to work with.

“In the music industry, Coco Lee broke down international barriers, before any other Chinese singer did,” he wrote. “Let's always remember her, as a brave pioneer, and an important musical legend.”

Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai posted a message on Facebook that read “RIP, your bright smile will always be remembered.”

Updated: July 06, 2023, 7:07 AM