Coco Lee, a Chinese American singer and songwriter best known for performing an Oscar-nominated song in the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” died in a hospital in Hong Kong on Wednesday. She was 48.
The cause was suicide, according to a statement from her sisters, Carol and Nancy Lee. Ms. Lee was taken to a hospital on Sunday after she attempted suicide at her home, they said.
“Coco had been suffering from depression for a few years but her condition deteriorated drastically over the last few months,” her sisters wrote. “Although Coco sought professional help and did her best to fight depression, sadly that demon inside of her took the better of her.”
Ms. Lee had built a successful career as a pop singer in Asia, but she was best known to American audiences for singing the song “A Love Before Time” in the 2000 film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The song was nominated for an Oscar in the best new original song category, and she performed it in front of a television audience of millions at the Academy Awards ceremony in March 2001.
“Combining the flavor and texture of Eastern music with the orchestral color and sensitive lyrics of Western culture, the magic of this stunningly beautiful film is truly realized in this evocative love ballad,” the actress Julia Stiles said as she introduced Ms. Lee’s performance.
Her career as a recording artist began after she finished as the runner-up in a singing competition hosted by the television broadcaster TVB in Hong Kong in 1993, shortly after she graduated from high school. Ms. Lee entered the competition on a whim, she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, and stumbled upon success.
“I was timid as a kid,” she said. “I would hide in the bathroom and sing in the shower. I always predicted my older sister Nancy would be the singer. She’s beautiful, talented and she’s got nice legs. I had no idea it would be me.”
But being selected as runner-up in the TVB contest led to the release of her debut album with a Taiwanese record label in 1994. “My goal in the singing business is not to stay in one place,” she told a reporter for The South China Morning Post in 1997, saying that she wanted to work in Asia and the U.S.
In 1999, Ms. Lee released her first full English language album, “Just No Other Way,” which featured pop and R&B songs. One track, “Before I Fall In Love,” was included on the soundtrack for the Julia Roberts film “Runaway Bride.”
Ms. Lee’s career also expanded beyond music. She voiced the lead character in the Mandarin version of Disney’s 1998 animated film “Mulan,” in addition to singing the movie’s theme song, “Reflection.”
Ms. Lee, who was born on Jan. 17, 1975, in Hong Kong, moved to the United States and attended middle and high school in San Francisco, where she was crowned Miss Teen Chinatown in 1991. She briefly attended the University of California at Irvine, intending to study biology and become a doctor, but dropped out after her freshman year, she told The Chronicle.
In their statement, Ms. Lee’s sisters noted that this year marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of her accomplished singing career. Ms. Lee was “known to have worked tirelessly to open up a new world for Chinese singers in the international music scene,” they wrote, highlighting her “excellent live performances.”
In addition to her sisters, Ms. Lee’s survivors include her husband, Bruce Rockowitz, and two stepdaughters. A complete list was not immediately available.
Her last single, called “Tragic,” was released in February. In a post to her social media at the end of 2022, Ms. Lee acknowledged having had an “incredibly difficult year” but encouraged her followers to spread positivity and “be an influential figure to inspire people.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.