Yesteryear actor Manjula Vijayakumar, 59, who paired with major heroes, including M.G. Ramachandran, died here on Tuesday, following a brief illness.

The actor, who made her first screen appearance as a child artist in ‘Shanthi Nilayam,’ was recently admitted to a private hospital, Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre, here for treatment after a fall. Her health took a turn for the worse when she lost consciousness on Tuesday morning, and died just a couple of months short of her 60th birthday. She was born on September 9, 1953.

Her role as Gemini Ganesan’s teenaged daughter in ‘Shanthi Nilayam’, the Tamil film industry’s adaptation of Sound of Music, marked her debut. This was in 1969. Only two years later, she got her big break, when she was chosen to play the heroine beside MGR in the 1971 blockbuster ‘Rickshawkaran’. That was a grand re-entry into the world of films, and one that ensured that this star was on the ascendant for the nearly the next 10 years.

Another of her super-hit films again came with MGR: ‘Ulagam Suttrum Vaaliban’ (1973). The film, shot in locations abroad, ran for over 200 days. Her success on the screen made her the natural choice for heroes like Sivaji Ganesan, ‘Dr. Siva’ being the most famous of the films. The hugely popular “Malare, Kurinji Malare” was from this movie. In ‘Engal Thanga Rasa’, a rough adaptation of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Sivaji romanced Manjula in the song, ‘Kalyana Aasai Vanda’. It was not surprising that Manjula was one of the heartthrobs of the 1970s, and managed to keep her position as heroine right through that decade. She married fellow actor Vijayakumar.

She also played lead roles in Telugu and Kannada films alongside NTR, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Sobhan Babu, Gemini Ganesan, and Vishnuvardhan. She also played roles with Kamal Haasan, Rajnikanth later. In the 1980s she moved on to playing supporting roles in films. She continued to act, doing a few films, upto the 2000s and has notched up a repertoire of over 100 films in the three languages. The South Indian film industry was shocked as news of Manjula’s death came in. “She had a fall a week ago, and that must have caused a clot in the abdomen. We only found that out three days ago, and admitted her to hospital. It was completely unexpected, even for us,” Arun Vijay, her step son, told The Hindu.

Stars from the industry trooped into the Vijayakumars' home in Alapakkam, a Chennai suburb to pay their last respects.

Among them were Rajnikanth, Manorama, Vijayakanth, Prabhu, Radhika, Sarath Kumar, Bhagyaraj, Goundamani, K.S.Ravikumar. A number of her younger colleagues, including Ramya Krishnan, Sneha and Prasanna, Soundarya Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Dhanush, paid their respects and offered condolences to her husband Vijayakumar. Actor Khushbu Sundar was quick to react on Twitter.

Manjula is survived by her husband, actor Vijayakumar, her daughters Preetha, Vanitha and Sridevi. The funeral is to be held tomorrow at about 1 p.m. at the Porur crematorium.