Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar, one of the most beloved figures in Indian cinema, died on Wednesday at the age of 98, his doctor confirmed.
Kumar was known to several generations of movie fans for starring in Bollywood cult classics, including the films “Devdas,” “Naya Daur,” “Ganga Jamuna,” and more. He often took on tragic roles, earning himself the nickname “Tragedy King.”
“Dilip Kumar passed away at 7:30 a.m. this morning, after prolonged illness,” said Dr. Jalil Parkar, who was treating him at Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai.
Kumar had been taken to the hospital in early June and later discharged, but was admitted again on June 30, according to posts on his official Twitter account.
On July 5, just two days before his death, Kumar’s wife, Saira Banu Khan, had tweeted from his account saying his health was improving.
A tweet from Kumar’s account, signed by family friend Faisal Farooqui, confirmed his death on Wednesday. “With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, few minutes ago,” said the tweet.
Kumar is survived by his wife. The couple did not have children.
People from all walks of life, including politicians, actors and athletes, shared their condolences on social media after news broke of his death.
“Dilip Kumar Ji will be remembered as a cinematic legend,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday. “He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled. His passing away is a loss to our cultural world. Condolences to his family, friends and innumerable admirers.”
Amitabh Bachchan, another Bollywood heavyweight, tweeted that “an institution has gone” and added he was “deeply saddened.”
“Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’,” he wrote.
From fruit seller to film star
Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in 1922, in Peshawar — in what is now part of Pakistan. His father was a fruit merchant, and the family moved to Mumbai, then known as Bombay, during Kumar’s childhood in the 1930s. A decade later, he moved to Pune to launch a canteen business and supply fruits.
It was in Pune that he was spotted by actress Devika Rani, also the wife of a famed Bollywood film studio founder. She helped the young man enter the industry, and came up with the screen name he would come to be known by — Dilip Kumar.
Though Kumar’s first few films failed to make a splash, his 1947 movie “Jugnu” marked a breakthrough success, followed by the hit “Shaheed” the year after. It was on the set of “Shaheed” that he met and began a relationship with actress Kamini Kaushal — an onscreen pairing that became a fan favorite, leading to three more consecutive hits starring the duo.
Dilip Kumar with actress Meena Kumari in a scene from the 1958 film “Yahudi.” Credit: Matteo Omied/Alamy
By the 1950s, he had become one of India’s biggest stars, racking up a long list of awards, placing him on par with Bollywood legends like Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.
But his personal life grabbed headlines off-screen as well. After his relationship with Kaushal ended in 1951, he met the actress Madhubala, another onscreen pairing that became popular with audiences and spawned the film “Mughal-e-Azam” — widely considered one of Bollywood’s most successful films, and an icon of its genre.
He married his wife, actress Saira Banu, in 1966.
But his professional life began declining in his later years, with a string of box office flops in the 60s and 70s, save for a scant few successful films. He retired in 1998 due to poor health.
Film awards aside, Kumar has also been recognized for his long and illustrious career. He has been awarded both the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan — the third- and second-highest civilian awards, granted by the Indian government — for his contributions to cinema.