PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - With the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong Un went from being North Korea's "Respected General" to "Great Successor" - a heady and uncertain promotion for a young man virtually unknown even to the North Korean people just a year ago.
Word of Kim Jong Il's death, announced Monday two days after he suffered a fatal heart attack, thrusts his 20-something son in the spotlight as the future head of a nation grappling with difficult nuclear negotiations and chronic food shortages.
Within hours of breaking the news of his father's death, state media urged the nation's people to rally around Kim Jong Un and to "faithfully revere" their next leader. The son has not appeared publicly since the announcement of his father's death.
The death speeds up a succession process that began in earnest a little more than a year ago - scant time to gain experience, build political clout and allay skepticism at home and abroad he can lead a nation of 24 million. His father, by contrast, had 20 years of grooming before his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, passed away in 1994.
Kim Jong Un's emergence in September 2010 as the anointed successor settled the question of which of Kim Jong Il's three known sons was chosen as the third-generation leader in a family dynasty that has ruled since North Korea's post-World War II inception in 1948.
And his status as his father's anointed successor has become clear over the course of the past year.
After appointing him vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party, Kim Jong Il unveiled the son to the world just weeks later at a massive military parade.
Stocky and youthful, he bears more than a passing resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, as a young man - a similarity that plays into the emphasis on lineage and legacy as just cause to make him leader.
North Koreans have been told Kim Jong Un graduated from Kim Il Sung Military University; speaks several foreign languages, including English; and is a whiz at computing and technology.
But they have not been told much else.
He is said to celebrate his birthday in January, but the year - or even the name of his mother - have not been revealed publicly.
"There is a rumor that he is married, but officially we don't know," said Yoon Deok-ryong, who specializes in North Korean economic reform at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul.