Known as "Amma," or "Mother" in Tamil, Jayalalithaa inspired intense...

Known as "Amma," or "Mother" in Tamil, Jayalalithaa inspired intense loyalty among film fans and political supporters. Credit: EPA / JAGADEESH NV

CHENNAI, India — Jayaram Jayalalithaa, the hugely popular south Indian actress who later turned to politics and became the highest elected official in the state of Tamil Nadu, died yesterday. She was 68.

The Apollo Hospital in the southern Indian city of Chennai said Jayalalithaa died at 11:30 p.m. local time yesterday after undergoing surgery following a heart attack on Sunday night.

Known by her followers as “Amma,” which means “Mother” in the Tamil language, Jayalalithaa inspired intense loyalty among film fans and political supporters alike.

Earlier Yesterday, thousands of Jayalalithaa’s supporters, wailing and crying, gathered outside the hospital to pray for her recovery. Police were deployed across the state to ensure security out of fear that her death could trigger widespread violence and riots.

Her body will be on display in a public hall in Chennai for people to pay their respects. The date and time of her funeral has not yet been announced as the state government needed time to put in place security arrangements to handle the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to attend.

Within hours of Jayalalithaa’s death, her trusted lieutenant, O. Panneerselvam, was sworn in as chief minister of the state.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply saddened” by Jayalalithaa’s death. “Her demise has left a huge void in Indian politics,” Modi tweeted.

Jayalalithaa had already been in the hospital for two months since Sept. 22, when she was admitted with a fever, dehydration and a respiratory infection. She was kept on a ventilator in the intensive care unit for weeks, doctors said.

Jayalalithaa was 13 when she began her film career. She entered politics in the early 1980s, under the guidance of Ramachandran. Soon after his death in 1987, she declared herself his political heir and took control of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam party.

She served as Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, the highest elected position in the state of 71 million people, for nearly 14 years over five terms beginning in 1991. She regained her office last year after a corruption case against her was overturned.

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