President Yoon Suk Yeol has posthumously awarded the Geumgwan Order of Cultural Merit to the late Song Hae (legal name Song Bok-hee), a beloved TV show host who died on June 8 at age 95.
The president on the same day said he bestowed the honor to "commemorate the late Song Hae's accomplishments, which contributed to the development of Korean popular culture and arts."
The order goes to an individual who makes significant contributions to the development of culture and arts and enjoyment of national culture. Geumgwan is the highest of the award's five grades.
President Yoon delivered a condolatory telegram and the order to Song's family through Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Bo Gyoon.
"I have no way to hide my sadness over the news of Mr. Song Hae's death," the chief executive said. "For over half a century, Mr. Song brought big laughter and warmth to the people as a singer, comedian and the people's emcee."
"By hosting the 'National Singing Contest,' the nation's longest-running broadcast program, Mr. Song provided the opportunity for domestic pop music to develop and reach a range of age groups," he added. "He also dedicated himself to protecting the rights and interests of pop culture artists and devoted himself to social contribution activities."
The president prayed for the soul of the deceased, saying, "The endearing songs and stories of our neighbors, who cried and laughed at Mr. Song's warm and young show, will remain in the hearts of our people for a long time."
Born in 1927 in Hwanghae-do Province in what is now North Korea, Song fled to the southern part of the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. He debuted as a singer in 1955 with Changgong Music Troupe and later worked as a comedian and emcee from the 1970s to 80s.
From May 1988, he hosted "National Singing Contest" on KBS 1TV for the next 34 years. In a special edition commemorating Liberation Day in August 2003, he co-hosted the show in Pyeongyang alongside North Korean host Jeon Seong-hee. A commemorative hall for Song opened in December 2012 in Daegu's Dalseong-gun County, displaying videos of the celebrity and his possessions.
Song won a special contributory award for national entertainment and arts, the Baeksang Arts Award, Korea Broadcasting Prize's contributory award and Eungwan Order of Cultural Merit.
In April, Guinness World Records named him the world's "oldest TV music talent show host."
Major foreign media also covered Song's death. The Washington Post on June 8 said, "From the early years of his show, Mr. Song advocated for the inclusion of contestants with disabilities," adding that in "recent years, he expressed support for the LGBT community."