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CoCo Lee, iconic Hong Kong singer and ‘Mulan’ voice actress, dies at 48

<i>Visual China Group/Getty Images</i><br/>Singer Coco Lee at the Weibo Awards Ceremony on January 16
Visual China Group/Getty Images
Singer Coco Lee at the Weibo Awards Ceremony on January 16

By Jennifer Hauser and Jessie Yeung, CNN

(CNN) — Hong Kong-born singer and actress CoCo Lee, whose decades-long career included dozens of successful albums, movies and television shows, died Wednesday, her sisters announced on social media.

Her sisters Carol and Nancy said she had been suffering from depression for “a few years” and attempted to take her life on Sunday. She was hospitalized but could not be revived from a coma and died on Wednesday. She was 48 years old.

In their statement, the sisters wrote that this year marks the 30th anniversary of Lee’s singing career, during which she “won countless international acclaims with top selling songs and has left audience w an astounding impression of her excellent 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. We are proud of her!” they wrote.

The post asked for privacy as the family grieves, adding: “Although CoCo stays in the world for not long a time, her rays of light will last forever!”

Lee was born in Hong Kong and raised in the United States. During one visit back to Hong Kong after high school, she won first place in a singing contest, which kick-started her music career. She found success in Asia throughout the 1990s, with millions of album sales, and music released in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Her R&B sounds infused with hip hop also made her popular in the US, and she gained enough prominence that she was hired to voice Disney heroine Fa Mulan in the Mandarin version of “Mulan,” released in 1998.

But it was the 2000 hit film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that propelled her to global fame. Lee sang the romantic ballad “A Love Before Time” in the martial arts adventure movie, which went on to sweep awards shows in the US and introduced American audiences to now-household names like actress Michelle Yeoh.

Lee famously performed “A Love Before Time” at the 2001 Oscars awards ceremony, in a telecast viewed by tens of millions.

In more recent years, she appeared on Chinese singing competition television shows including “Infinity and Beyond” and “Singer.”

Lee’s last Instagram post, dated December 31, 2022, acknowledged it had been an “incredibly difficult year,” but urged her followers to stay positive and spread love. “You are not alone, no matter how hard life gets, I’m with (you),” she wrote.

The announcement of her death sparked shock and grief online, with that final Instagram post flooded with condolence messages, including from other Hong Kong artists. The topic also trended on Chinese social media platform Weibo, gaining nearly 1.4 billion views.

It raised discussion around mental health and depression, with many pointing to Lee’s cheerful, bubbly public image, and urging people to support each other with kindness and sensitivity. Others praised Lee for breaking boundaries as an Asian American and providing young Chinese women a role model on the world stage.

“When I was little and saw her on the stage, I thought, ‘Oh, so Chinese women can be like this – powerful, bright, bold,’” one Weibo user wrote.

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