Raj Kumar, a onetime child actor who became one of south India’s most beloved movie stars and later was kidnapped by a notorious bandit, died Wednesday at age 77.
He died in a Bangalore hospital of cardiac arrest, Dr. Ramana Rao told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Kumar, whose name was also spelled Rajkumar, appeared in more than 200 Kannada-language films in five decades, with millions of fiercely devoted fans. While he largely gave up acting in the mid-1990s, he remained one of the region’s best-loved figures.
Hundreds of distraught fans rioted in Bangalore when police prevented them from forcing their way into the late actor’s home, New Delhi Television reported.
Police used bamboo canes to drive away angry fans who shattered the windows of several buses and set a half-dozen cars and motorcycles on fire.
The actor’s body was later moved to a large public park in the heart of the city to allow fans to pay their last respects. The regional government in southern India has decided to give Kumar a state funeral, according to Press Trust of India.
Kumar appeared in action films, mythological sagas and romance movies in which he was the star attraction.
Although he played rugged, masculine heroes who triumphed over scheming villains in many of his movies, he also was known for never having smoked cigarettes on screen, or never playing a drunkard after his early days.
He was in the news again in 2000 when he was kidnapped by Veerappan, a famed bandit who had spent decades eluding police in the forests of south India. Kumar was freed by Veerappan after 109 days living in the forests with his gang. Local reports said a large ransom was paid, although Kumar denied that.
Kumar’s first glimpse into the world of acting was as a child, when he accompanied his father, an actor who performed in plays in small Indian villages.
Kumar soon dropped out of school to act on the stage and later in the movies.
He won more than 20 national and state awards for his contribution to Indian cinema. His fans called him “Annavaru” meaning “respected elder brother” in the Kannada language.
Movie reviews often told of audiences in cinema halls booing villains who tried to pick fights with him on the big screen. Fans were known to worship his image and pray that his films would be successful at the box office.
He also was a singer whose range extended from dance numbers to classical and devotional songs.
After his retirement, Kumar continued to work behind the scenes as a producer.
Kumar’s three sons — Shivraj, Raghavendra and Puneet — all became successful actors.