Kim Jong-il is the self-proclaimed "Dear Leader" of North Korea.
Born February 15, 1942 in Watsukoye, Russia (Siberia), he took power soon after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in July 1994.
Though better-known for his lavish lifestyle and taste for American cinema than for his love of statecraft, Kim Jong-il was, from childhood, groomed for the presidency by his father, the first president and self-proclaimed "Great Leader" of what is now the last Stalinist stronghold in the world.
After graduating from Kim Il Sung University in 1964, Kim Jong-il began his ascension through the ranks of the ruling Korean Worker's Party, working first in the party's elite Organization Department before being named a member of the Party Politburo in 1968 and promoted to deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Party Headquarters in 1969.
In 1973, Kim was elected Party secretary of organization and propaganda, and in 1974, he was was officially designated his father's successor. During the next 15 years he continued to add entries to his curriculum vitae, among them minister of culture and art, supreme commander of the military, and head of party operations against South Korea.
Analysts suspect his involvement in apparent acts of North Korean-sponsored terrorism against South Korea, including a 1983 bombing that killed 17 South Korean officials in Burma and a 1987 bombing that killed 115 people on board a Korean Airlines jet.
Experts who track North Korea — to whatever degree that is possible given the state's Iron Curtain-like policies — say there are signs that Kim lacks the total respect of party leaders and the military. Perhaps that is why when his father died in July 1994, Kim did not take power definitively. And although he is the de facto leader of the country, there continues to be speculation surrounding how much control he actually has.
Recently, Kim has overseen a change of leaders in the upper echelon of the party and the military. Many of his father's associates — first-generation revolutionaries who participated in the guerrilla war against the Japanese army — have been replaced with his own contemporaries who, some say, are more likely to break with past policies. Many see these maneuvers as Kim’s attempt to consolidate power and, in an effort to ease the floods, famine and grinding poverty that threaten to bring down his regime, pave the way for reforms that may open North Korea to the West.
In an interview with Japanese television in February, Kim Dae-jung jettisoned decades of South Korean tradition by describing Kim Jong-il as "a pragmatic leader with good judgment and knowledge." According to the Los Angeles Times, a senior South Korean official says Kim is believed to have a genius-level IQ of 150 or 160. An intelligence source describes him as a "computer wizard" who surfs the Internet, is fascinated with new technologies and is determined to develop North Korea's fledgling software industry.
Kim Jong-il visited China in May. He claimed the visit was planned long in advance and not directly linked to Kim's talks with his South Korean counterpart Kim Dae-Jung. Kim Jong-il has never met Kim Dae-Jung, who has had numerous contacts with Chinese leaders, and visited China in late 1998.
Kim's marital status is unclear. Kim was reportedly married to a university classmate who bore him a son. He divorced her and is believed to have later married a typist named Kim Yong Suk, with whom he reportedly has three children.
Kim is rarely seen and has made no public statements since assuming control of the country. He has never met with a leader of a Western nation and he has only left North Korea for visits to China.