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Yi Ku, at 73; was last heir to the throne of Korea

SEOUL -- Five hundred years of Korean royal blood flowed in Yi Ku, but he lived in such obscurity in Japan that when he died of a heart attack in a hotel room last week, his body was not discovered for two days.

Nonetheless, thousands of mourners in black suits and traditional white robes followed the coffin of the last direct heir to Korea's throne through the streets of Seoul yesterday, paying their final respects to the dynasty that ruled the peninsula from 1392 until 1910.

Mr. Yi, the son of Korea's last crown prince, died of a heart attack at age 73 in his hotel room July 16 in Japan, where he lived for most of his life.

His body was discovered July 18.

Japan forced Mr. Yi's grandfather from power in 1907 and annexed Korea in 1910, ending the centuries-long reign of the Chosun Dynasty.

After Korea's liberation at the end of World War II in 1945, the royal family was not immediately allowed to return for fear it would meddle with the new government. That extended Mr. Yi's years of exile.

''May he join his parents in enjoying all the happiness that he did not enjoy in this life," Korea's prime minister, Lee Hae-chan, a relative of Mr. Yi's, said in a funeral address at Changdeok Palace.

Mr. Yi was born in Tokyo to Yi Un, the Chosun Dynasty's last crown prince, and Princess Yi Bang-ja, a Japanese royal family member.

Four members of the Japanese royal family attended yesterday's funeral, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Mr. Yi finished his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in architecture and living largely apart from the Korean public. He was more fluent in Japanese and English than Korean, a sore point with his family.

Mr. Yi married a German-American, Julia Mullock, in New York in 1958.

The couple returned to Korea in 1963 and lived in Changdeok Palace until he moved to Japan for good in 1977 after a business failure.

The couple divorced in 1982. They did not have children.

Mullock watched yesterday's ceremony from across the street, South Korea's YTN news channel reported.

Mourners in the crowd acknowledged the passing of an epoch in Korean history.

''Like most other people, I came to pay respects to the last imperial grandson. It's his last passage," said Lee Seung-hae, 28, a graduate student in Seoul.

Yi Ku was buried in the royal burial grounds east of Seoul, alongside his parents and his brother, who died as an infant.

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