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Bollywood's 'King of Melody' Manna Dey dies at 94

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Legendary Bollywood singer Manna Dey, whose husky voice dominated the soundtracks of Indian movie classics for more than 60 years, died in hospital on Thursday aged 94.

The playback singer, who had been struggling with ill health for several months, died in the southern city of Bangalore after suffering multiple organ failure, a hospital spokesman told AFP.

"We are saddened by his loss, but he died peacefully," his son-in-law Jnanranjan Deb, who was at the singer's bedside when he died, told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Dey, part of the golden era of Bollywood from the 1940s to the 1960s, was a versatile singer who enthralled generations of music lovers and moviegoers with his romantic ballads but also faster modern songs.

His body was taken from the hospital to an open-air theatre in Bangalore's central business district for crowds of fans to pay their respects.

One emotional follower burst into one of Dey's songs as he stood next to the body, which was covered in flowers with only Dey's face showing.

The singer's cremation took place later in the afternoon in northwestern Bangalore, with hundreds of fans joining grieving relatives including his daughter Rama at the ceremony.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led tributes to the musician, who recorded more than 3,000 songs during his career in numerous languages.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the demise of the King of Melody, Manna Dey. An accomplished singer with a unique voice, he was multi-talented," Singh said in his condolence message.

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, for whom Dey sang in early hits such as "Sholay" (Embers) in 1975, described him as a "stalwart of the music world".

"Flooded with memories and his songs," Bachchan wrote on Twitter, where many in the industry paid tribute for man widely known as Mannada.

Born in Kolkata in May 1919 as Prabodh Chandra Dey, he had trained to be a wrestler as a college student, but struggled with the sport owing to worsening eyesight.

"By the time I was an adult, music had taken over my life and soul," Dey wrote in his autobiography, "Memories Come Alive".

After college, he travelled to Mumbai where he was first employed as an assistant to a music director, before making his debut as a playback singer in the 1943 film "Tamanna" (Desire).

His first big hit came seven years later in "Mashaal" (Torch) and his career went on to span more than six decades.

His most popular numbers included the 1970 hits "Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli" (Life is such a puzzle) for the film "Anand" (Happiness) and "Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo" (Hey brother, watch where you are going) for "Mera Naam Joker" (My Name is Joker).

Dey's last recording was for the 2006 movie "Umar" (Age).

The singer was as much at ease with a classical Indian song as he was with a peppy, youthful one. As well as Hindi, he sang in regional languages such as Bengali, Malayalam, Bhojpuri and Gujarati.

Rajendra Babu, a leading director in the Bangalore-based film industry, said Dey was widely admired by the country's moviemakers for his ability to sing in so many languages.

"Mannada was one of the greatest singers in the Indian subcontinent during the 20th century with a unique and original voice," he told AFP.

Later in life Dey was always seen wearing a brown fur cap, which was given to him by a fan at a winter concert in the northern region of Kashmir as he struggled to sing in the bitter cold.

Dey won various awards for his work in the music industry, including the Dadasaheb Phalke, the highest award in Indian cinema, in 2007.

But some felt he did not enjoy the same levels of fame and celebrity as his contemporaries Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, with whom he recorded a boisterous song for "Padosan" (Neighbour) in 1968.

Dey is survived by his two daughters. His wife Sulochana died of cancer last year.

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