July 18, 2012 / 8:33 AM / 6 years ago

Bollywood's first heart-throb Rajesh Khanna dies at 69

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Rajesh Khanna, one of the Indian film industry’s first home-grown screen idols, died on Wednesday morning, his family said.

Khanna, 69, had been in and out of hospital over the past month as a result of an undisclosed illness. He died at his residence in suburban Mumbai, his son-in-law and actor Akshay Kumar told reporters.

The funeral will be held on Thursday.

Known for his shy smile and flamboyant looks, Khanna was often referred to as Bollywood’s first real superstar, someone who had a fanatical fan base among women, thanks to the many romantic hits in which he starred during the 1970s.

At the peak of his career, women would symbolically marry posters of Khanna and write letters to him in blood, according to actors who worked with him.

“Rajesh Khanna taught us how to smile. He added dignity to our concept of romance,” actor Anupam Kher wrote on Twitter.

His role as a dashing young pilot in “Aradhana” and a terminally ill cancer patient in “Anand” remain some of the most remembered characters in Bollywood, and many of the lines are part of Indian pop culture.

Khanna, who was born Jatin Khanna, married fellow actor Dimple in 1973, and had two daughters with her, but the couple separated in the 1980s.

Tributes to Khanna poured in, including from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Indian television channels ran special shows on his films and social networking sites like Twitter were full of tributes to Khanna.

Part of India’s parliament during the 1990s, Khanna dabbled in politics for a while, but in his later years he become a recluse, hardly appearing in public.

His last appearance before the camera was an ad for a ceiling fan brand earlier this year, where his gaunt and haggard appearance distressed many fans.

Editing by Matthias Williams and Paul Casciato

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