Rajesh Khanna: Bollywood's first superstar dies at 69

The 1970s heartthrob who had men copying his hairdo and women writing him letters in blood

LAST UPDATED AT 15:58 ON Wed 18 Jul 2012

RAJESH KHANNA, the first superstar of Indian cinema, died in Mumbai today at the age of 69 following a battle with ill health.

Khanna was one of the highest paid actors of his time and, according to the Times of India, enjoyed a "god-like status" in the early 1970s.

After winning a talent contest at the age of 23, Khanna appeared in his first film Aakhri Khat in 1966. But it was his role as a dashing pilot in the 1969 box office hit Aradhana that catapulted him to superstardom.

Men copied his clothes and hair style, while women lined the roads, cheering and chanting his name as he drove by. Fans mobbed him and covered his car with lipstick marks. Some women even sent him letters written in blood, while others performed "marriage ceremonies" to photographs of him.

Khanna, affectionately called 'Kaka' by his friends and fans, appeared in 160 films over his four-decade career, playing the solo lead in 106 of them. This included 15 consecutive solo 'superhits' – an Indian film record that remains unbroken to this day.

"He just could not deliver a flop," author Siddharth Bhatia tells the BBC. "People sang with him, romanced with him and cried with him; he knew how to squeeze those tear ducts; he must have died on screen in more films than anyone else."

In 1973, at the age of 30, Khanna married 16-year-old actress Dimple Kapadia in a whirlwind romance. They had two daughters Twinkle and Rinke but their relationship did not last and they separated after 11 years.

Khanna disappeared from the headlines and only made rare public appearances. He dabbled in politics, becoming Congress MP for the New Delhi constituency from 1991-1996. He later appeared in B-grade films and shot his first television advert for Havells fans earlier this year. Last month he told a reporter: "In the latter part of my career I acted in a few insignificant films. I shouldn't have done them."

Khanna was reportedly battling health issues for a long time and recently mentioned that his drinking habit had taken a toll on his health. He was admitted to hospital last month, where his estranged wife took care of him. He died with her and his daughters by his side.

Actors, fans and the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh paid tribute to Khanna today.

One close friend, the actor and screenwriter Salim Khan, said that in reality Khanna was an introvert, shy and unable to express himself very well. But he added: "His position remained untouched, nobody could come anywhere near him, he was loved and adored by all from six to 60, especially women who considered him their ultimate Dreamboy with his cherubic smile, a romantic charisma and a good boy image.

"While the period Rajesh reigned at the top was quite short - barely six years - he truly deserved the 'superstar' status that the industry bestowed on him." · 

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