Today, on April 24, late Kannada actor Rajkumar’s birth anniversary is celebrated. Born in 1929 as Ambrish Singanalluru Puttaswamayya Muthuraju, he was renamed Rajkumar for his on-screen avatar. Widely acclaimed as one of the finest actors in the history of Indian cinema, he is considered a cultural icon, and holds a matinee idol status in the Kannada diaspora, among whom he is popularly adulated as Nata Saarvabhouma (Emperor of Actors), Bangarada Manushya (Man of Gold), Vara Nata (Gifted Actor) and Rajanna (Brother Raj).

With a career spanning over four decades and 200 films, he made his acting debut with 1954 Kannada film Bedara Kannappaa. He dedicated his career to Kannada cinema and was known for starring in one Telugu film Sri Kalahastiswara Mahatyam, a remake of his debut film. Some of his best films include Ranadheera Kanteerava, Kaviratna Kalidasa, Jedara Bale and Gowri among others.

Rajkumar trained in classical music when he was with Gubbi Veeranna’s theatre troupe. He has reportedly crooned nearly 300 songs. The song “Om Namaha Shivaya” from the 1956 film Ohileshwara, that he also starred in, was his first in a film. Some of the other films in which he crooned include Sampathige Saval, Operation Diamond Racket, Jeeva Chaitra and Om.

A recipient of Padma Bhushan and Dada Saheb Phalke Award, his sons Shivrajkumar and Puneeth Rajkumar are also popular Kannada actors.

On April 12, 2006, Rajkumar passed away. His death triggered an outpouring of grief. There was major shutdown in the city of Bengaluru. An unofficial bandh was observed and several people attempted suicide after hearing the news; most of them were rescued. The funeral cortege the next day started from Sree Kanteerava Stadium to Kanteerava Studios. Around two million people followed his remains.