Bollywood’s “first action hero” Dara Singh, an Indian champion wrestler-turned-actor whose film and television career spanned over half a century, died on Thursday aged 83.
The star’s health deteriorated a few days ago and he passed away after suffering from a heart attack, his doctor R.K. Agarwal told reporters outside Singh’s Mumbai residence, sparking tributes from across the country.
“It was his and his family’s wish that he should spend his last moments at home,” Agarwal said.
Born in Punjab in 1928, Singh trained in the Indian “Pehlwani” wrestling style before joining the sport professionally, going on to become commonwealth wrestling champion in 1959 and world wrestling champion in 1968.
He took up acting in the 1950s, carving his niche with tough man roles in Bollywood films such as “King Kong”, “Hercules”, “Samson” and “Tarzan comes to Delhi”.
His popularity peaked in the 1980s when he played the monkey god Hanuman in the popular television series of “Ramayan”, an adaptation of the Hindu epic, and he appeared in more than 140 films.
His last movie appearance was in “Jab We Met” (When We Met) in 2007, playing the role of grandfather to leading Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the tributes, expressing his sadness at Singh’s death and describing him as a “noted film personality and an internationally acclaimed wrestler”.
Veteran Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, writing on Twitter, described Singh as “a great Indian and one of the finest humans. An entire era of his celebrated presence gone!”
Indian industrialist Anand Mahindra recalled how during his school days, any strong guy was a “Dara Singh”. Director and actress Farah Khan paid tribute to “the first ever action hero of our country, rest in peace”.