Hong Kong-born singer and Mulan star Coco Lee dies aged 48

Lee, who also grew up in California, was renowned as the voice of Mulan in Mandarin and for her soaring vocals.

The Hong Kong-born singer Coco Lee, beloved across Asia as the voice of Disney’s Mulan in Mandarin and for her soaring vocals, has died.

The 48-year-old had suffered from depression in recent years, “but her condition deteriorated drastically over the last few months”, Coco’s older sisters, Carol and Nancy, said in an Instagram post.

They said she was admitted to a Hong Kong hospital on Sunday after attempting to take her own life, and died on Wednesday.

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

Born Ferren Lee on January 17, 1975, in what was then the British colony of Hong Kong, Lee later moved to California where she went to secondary school.

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

Although Lee initially started off singing in Mandarin, she later branched out to release albums in Cantonese and English over her nearly 30-year career.

Renowned for her powerful voice and live performances, she was hugely popular in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, where her death prompted wall-to-wall news coverage.

On China’s Weibo microblogging site, one of the most read hashtags following her death generated 200 million views.

“Will miss you forever. Miss your beautiful singing, your hearty laugh and your pretty smile,” wrote one Chinese fan.

Her popularity extended across the region to Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Australia.

“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 in their post. “We are proud of her!”

‘A musical legend’

Lee sang the Mandarin version of the 1998 ballad Reflection from the Disney film Mulan and recorded A Love Before Time as part of the soundtrack for the award-winning martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon directed by Ang Lee.

She performed the Best Original Song-nominated number at the 2001 Academy Awards, making her the first singer of Chinese descent to take to the Oscars stage, according to Warner Music China.

In 1999, Lee released her first full English-language album, Just No Other Way, which featured more R&B-influenced hits like Do You Want My Love.

From that album, Before I Fall in Love was chosen as the theme song for the Richard Gere and Julia Roberts rom-com Runaway Bride.

In her final Instagram post, Lee shared tattoos reading “love” and “faith” on her arms.

“My two favorite words that I carry strongly in my heart which I desperately needed to get thru [sic] this incredibly difficult year,” she wrote in the post, published on the final day of 2022.“Life seemed unbearable at times, but I adapted the attitude of a ‘female warrior’ to face them head-on fearlessly,” the caption read.

Mandopop singer-songwriter Wang Leehom paid tribute to Lee in an Instagram post, describing her as the “biggest star” and a singer 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.”

Lee married Canadian businessman Bruce Rockowitz, the former chief executive of Hong Kong supply chain company Li & Fung, in 2011. She had two stepdaughters from her marriage.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, these organisations may be able to help:

International Association for Suicide Prevention

Open Counseling