Tributes pour after death of Rajesh Khanna, 'the first Bollywood superstar'

Story highlights

  • His movies are part of Indian "film folklore," the prime minister says
  • The actor had been in and out of hospital in recent months
  • He is best remembered for the romantic movies he made in the '60s and '70s
  • Khanna also spent four years as a lawmaker in the Indian parliament

The Indian actor Rajesh Khanna, who became the first Bollywood superstar, died Wednesday in Mumbai at the age of 69, his family said.

The death of Khanna, who starred in dozens of movies in a career spanning five decades, prompted tributes from fellow actors and the Indian government.

"He was called the first superstar of the Indian cinema and his popularity as a romantic hero in the 1960s and 1970s is a part of our film folklore," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote in a condolence message to Khanna's family.

"Rajesh Khanna taught us how to smile. He added dignity to our concept of romance," the actor Anupam Kher said in a message posted on his Twitter feed. "His songs made us forget our daily struggles of life."

Khanna had been in and out of the hospital during the past few months, but the nature of his illness and cause of death have not been officially disclosed.

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After Khanna's son-in-law, Akshay Kumar, who is also a Bollywood star, announced his death Wednesday, crowds of people gathered outside his Mumbai home. And hundreds of people lined the streets of Mumbai for his funeral Thursday.

    Khanna began his movie career in the 1966 film Aakhri Khat (The Last Letter), but his breakout role came three years later in the highly successful Aradhana (Worship), in which he played a dashing pilot.

    He went on to star in a string of hit romantic movies, and his shy smile won him legions of devoted admirers. Among his most popular films were Safar (Journey) in 1970; Anand (Bliss) in 1971; and Haathi Mere Sathi (Elephant, My Companion) also in 1971.

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    His movie career wound down over the course of the 1980s, and he shifted his attention to politics. He was elected to the lower house of the Indian parliament in 1992 by a borough of New Delhi.

    After Khanna's time in parliament ended in 1996, his popularity dimmed and his political career faded. He led a more reclusive life and was rarely seen in public.

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    He appeared in just a handful of films, the last of which was Wafaa (Loyalty) in 2008. He briefly reemerged a few months ago, appearing in a television ad for ceiling fans.

    Born as Jatin Khanna in 1942, Khanna married fellow actor Dimple Kapadia in 1973. They had two daughters, Twinkle Khanna and Rinke Khanna.

    The couple separated in the 1980s, but his estranged wife was seen with him in recent months after he fell ill.

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