In a career spanning 74 years, the 91-year-old Telugu film legend acted in 256 films across social, romantic, mythological and genres in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. He is remembered for his performances in classics like Devadasu, Maya Bazaar, Laila Majnu and Anarkali.
ANR is survived by two sons and three daughters. His latest film Manam, also starring his younger son Nagarjuna and grandson Naga Chaitanya, is slated for release this year.
The veteran actor put up a brave front after he was diagnosed with cancer. He had called for an emergency press conference on October 19, 2013, only to baffle his fans and the film fraternity that he had underwent a routine medical check-up following severe stomach ache and the test results revealed that he had cancer.
“My mother Punnamma lived for 96 years. I will match that. I spoke to cancer specialists in the US and they had assured that cancer could be defeated,” ANR had said, urging his fans and well wishers to pray for him.
ANR, born in Venkata Raghavapuram in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh on September 20, 1923, strode into theatre arts, playing female characters to start with. He made his cinema debut with Dharmapatni in 1941.Since, then there was no looking back for him.
Ruling the Telugu tinsel world (called Tollywood) along with late Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao (NTR), actor and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, for over four decades, ANR had portrayed a variety of roles, including a frustrated alcoholic lover in Devadasu, based on Sarath Chandra’s Bengali novel, to bringing tragic characters to life in movies like Laila Majnu, Anarkali, Prem Nagar, Premabhishekam and Megha Sandesham besides tickling the funny bone in comedy films, including Missamma, Chakrapani, Tenali Ramakrishna and Preminchi Choodu.
Besides being instrumental in completely shifting the base of the Telugu film industry from Chennai to Hyderabad in 1990s during NTR’s political regime, ANR has many firsts to his credit –– setting a trend by introducing dances to the film industry, to being the first Telugu actor to don a dual-role in a movie, to portraying nine characters in a film Navaratri.
In recognition of his contribution to the film industry, ANR was bestowed upon with civilian awards Padma Shri in 1968, Padma Bhushan in 1988, Padma Vibhushan in 2011, and Dada Saheb Phalke award, the highest individual lifetime achievement award for films in India, in 1991.
“He was very happy and was talking to everyone until his last breath,” ANR’s son and actor Akkineni Nagarjuna said.
Terming his demise as the end of the golden era in Telugu cinema, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, Governor ESL Narasimhan, Tamil Nadu Governor Rosaiah, and celebrities from the film fraternity paid tributes to the legendary actor.
ANR's body has been shifted to Annapurna Studios, founded by the actor in 1955, for his fans to pay their last respects.