You probably all recognize Kim Jong Kook from Running Man, but there is a lot about him you might not know...
Kim Jongkook debuted as a dance duo called Turbo in the mid-90's when he was 19 years old, the other member being Kim Jungnam. Turbo was a very popular group with a string of hit songs, super overworked, and barely fed in between schedules.
They typically had 10 gigs daily, 17 when they were really busy, and had to get on a plane to travel between these gigs 5 times in a day. During comebacks, there were always records of Kim Jongkook and Kim Jungnam going in and out of the hospital at least 3 times a month (the most hospitalized artists at the time).
But all the money from their blood and sweat went towards the head of their agency, who also used violence. The agency's managers were all gangsters and would also force Turbo to perform at inappropriate nightclubs and steal their pay through violence.
You know why Kim Jongkook started bulking up and has that "Spartakook" character (or whatever it is) he has now? He started learning boxing as SELF-DEFENSE because he was beaten all the time. Kim Jungnam mentioned that they were relieved once because they were hit with "only" a chair and ashtray. Kim Jongkook was often tied up in the basement and hit for who knows how long, if he complained or didn't practice enough. He was nearly beat to death for ordering one more dish on the menu, during a dinner with Turbo's backdancers.
[CRAZY "fun fact": One of the gangster managers who beat Kim Jongkook during his Turbo days is the CEO of C-JeS, Baek Changjoo (also threatened actor Kwon Sangwoo in the past). Baek Changjoo aka Song Jihyo's former CEO and ex-boyfriend; wonder how Kim Jongkook felt when news of them dating broke out during RM filming.]
Once, the two Turbo members ran away instead of attending a scheduled event. The agency threatened them and forced the media to make the members look bad. Kim Jongkook, when directly asked about this issue, looked afraid to give an honest answer. Instead, he vaguely said, "There's a man controlling everything behind the scenes. A person with power can manipulate the media to make a single person into a complete idiot. I was disillusioned, after being so worn out by this industry. Whenever someone approached me with a smiling face, I'd become suspicious and question his/her secret intent but then...I decided that no matter how much this world deceives and toys with me, 'Everything will turn out fine if I remain upright!' This was my motto and I let them [the agency people] drag me around to darker places."
After this interview, the issue grew and the police started an investigation. The agency head hid from the public, and only the agency rep and two managers were arrested (for violence, threats, and taking millions in profit that should have rightfully gone to Turbo).
The investigation ended pretty messily, with Kim Jongkook remaining in Turbo and Kim Jungnam's leave. Following this, Kim Jongkook developed society anxiety disorder and never left his home for a whole year and 2 months. He became addicted to games, during that time spent alone in his home, to the point that his arm was almost paralyzed. The agency later reached out to him, tried to amend things, and Kim Jongkook went back as Turbo's choreographer.
The agency held an audition to pick a new member to replace Kim Jungnam (competition was 1600:1). The two finalists was a talented guy (Mikey) and a guy picked for his visuals. Kim Jongkook insisted Mikey be picked over the other and protested, "Turbo was supposed to be a talented group!" The agency head told the then-21 years old Kim Jongkook that he will be held financially responsible for everything if the group fails; and, that's how Mikey joined Turbo. The agency also tricked Mikey into signing an unfair contract, and when Turbo disbanded, Mikey had to get 6 months of treatment for severe depression (he was also suicidal).
Once Kim Jongkook's contract with the agency expired, he had plans for a solo album and set out looking for composers. But all of the composers couldn't give him songs because they were being threatened by the head of his former agency. He was even rejected by composer Joo Younghun, who he was personally close friends with. He wondered whether this was the end of his singing career and had a drink with Cha Taehyun. He called the former agency head, who coldly said, "Looks like you're calling because you're disadvantaged." Kim Jongkook even begged, "Hyungnim, please allow me to live." The agency head cut him off and thought he ended the call (but didn't), and Kim Jongkook heard him saying, "I'm definitely going to kill this kid."
Kim Jongkook ended up producing his own first solo album, but his former agency blocked his promotional broadcast activities so it failed. After a break of 2 years, he came out with a second album, without an agency or a M/V. His title track failed to garner success but a side track he incidentally sang became popular, and allowed him to promote again 'til this day. That song is "One Man."
Years after Kim Jongkook established a very successful solo career (triple daesang for "Lovable," etc.), in 2010, the former agency head shamelessly asked him to feature for one of their rookie artists. When Kim Jongkook turned down the request b/c of conflicting circumstances, the head said, "How could you do this to me?" and called him ungrateful. Kim Jongkook cried because all he had wanted to hear was a simple "It was hard on you back then, right? I'm sorry."
To add to all this, the reason why Kim Jongkook wore sunglasses for most of his Turbo promos was because the agency said he was ugly and if he dared to take them off, they would disband the group. And when Turbo went to America to film their M/V for "Tonight," the agency used Mikey's car w/o his permission for a car-repair scene and badly damaged the car. The agency didn't pay for damages, and Kim Jongkook stepped up to buy Mikey a new car (reminder that Turbo was paid pretty much nothing despite success in album sales).
Kwak Seungnam, who almost became a Turbo member, said Turbo was famous for the excessive time they spent practicing and admitted he couldn't have withstood it all. A week before Turbo's comeback, Kim Jongkook practiced too much w/o rest, fainted from a herniated disc, and was hospitalized. This was all caught on cam because a comedian was hosting a hidden camera special on Turbo. Kim Jongkook was forced to stand back on stage after 10 days and had a pained expression while dancing; he ended up fainting after a performance. His herniated disc got worse only 4 days since treatment and kept worsening. This is the main reason why he's so obsessed with health training; he started for rehab purposes and maintains it to keep his herniated disc in check.
This severe case of herniated disc he got from his Turbo days was why he failed to qualify for active army service. And because of Kim Jongkook's "healthy" image established from his X-Man days, the public found this news ridiculous and he received an unbelievable amount of hate. His nickname was "Public Service Kim," his image took a downturn, and he accumulated so many antis, as they were not aware of his condition. However, he still gets hate today for this because many netizens still aren't aware (or are just bitter and don't care).
Kim Jongkook's father's occupation is a solider, so Kim Jongkook was just as upset with the health exam results. In a 2008 interview, he said, "If I could just go back in time to that moment, I would've used whatever possible method or connection to force my way into active service." In his 2015 Healing Camp interview, he said, "I could accept all criticism about not having gone into active service, but it was hard to [lie and] say that my back doesn't hurt." Kim Jongkook still frequents the hospital for check-ups because he gets painful muscle spasms to this day.
Even now (on Infinity Challenge), Kim Jongkook "jokingly" says he left his former agency because of the food, likely because he's still afraid of the aftermath if he reveals the full truth. (He's only brought it up on Strong Heart that one person from his old agency blocked his solo album but he chose to be very vague about the details. Rewatch it, and you'll see how cautious he is when talking about it.)
Last reminder that Kim Jongkook was only 19 years old when he debuted and suffered all this abuse. Point of this post is just to put it out there, that he deserves so much more respect than he already gets because he's been through SO MUCH and got to where he is now all alone with practically the world against him.
His motto, people (for dramatic effect haha): "Everything will turn out fine if I remain upright!"