Fernando Poe Jnr

Flamboyant film star and Filipino presidential candidate known as 'Da King'

Ronald Allan Kelley Poe (Fernando Poe Jnr), actor and politician: born San Carlos City, Philippines 20 August 1939; married Susan Roces (one adopted daughter), (one daughter by Anna Marin); died Manila 13 December 2004.

Ronald Allan Kelley Poe (Fernando Poe Jnr), actor and politician: born San Carlos City, Philippines 20 August 1939; married Susan Roces (one adopted daughter), (one daughter by Anna Marin); died Manila 13 December 2004.

Fernando Poe Jnr was a flamboyant, yet curiously shy film star who narrowly missed becoming President of the Philippines this year. FPJ, as he was known, appeared in scores of B-grade action movies in which he invariably starred as hero, and supporter of the underdog. The Philippines' answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, he promised the masses that he would play the same role if elected to the highest political office of the turbulent archipelago.

Poe collapsed while drinking his favourite San Miguel beer during a party at his film studio on Saturday. When he fell into a coma, fellow film stars and politicians rushed to his bedside at a Manila hospital, and thousands of Filipinos held prayer vigils for his recovery.

A political novice and secondary-school drop-out, Poe - known as "Da King" - came within 3 per cent of ousting the incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in the May election. He promptly filed charges of fraud against Arroyo, asking the Supreme Court to nullify her victory. The court has yet to rule.

During the campaign, his opponents made much of his political inexperience and dubious grasp of the issues, noting that he had never held public office. He refused to enter debates with rival politicians and, at rallies, spent most of his time crooning popular songs. Sometimes, to the despair of his minders, he did not turn up at all.

But, in a country where show business is king and politics is the ultimate soap opera, Poe commanded a huge following. No matter that he never explained his policies for dealing with myriad problems, including poverty, foreign debt, terrorism and rampant corruption; instead, he promised Filipinos "breakfast, lunch and dinner".

He was born Ronald Allan Kelley Poe in Manila in 1939 to a Spanish father and American mother, but later changed his name to that of his film-star father, who died in 1951 after being licked by a rabid puppy. Fernando Poe Jnr's career began in the 1950s, and spanned more than 200 films. He played the strong, silent hero in movies such as Muslim Magnum .357 (1986) and Ang Panday (1982), a children's epic about a blacksmith who makes a magic sword.

Poe, who won five awards in the local version of the Oscars, also starred in the film of a true story about a teacher who became a rebel leader fighting avaricious landlords and bureaucrats in the 1920s, when the Philippines was still an American colony.

One of his closest friends was Joseph Estrada, the former president who was ousted by "people power" protests in 2001. Estrada, another ex-movie legend with wide popular appeal, is under house arrest, awaiting trial on corruption charges. Estrada reportedly poured millions of dollars into his friend's campaign, fuelling suspicions that Poe was just a figurehead in Estrada's bid to return to power.

Poe was also close to the family of Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator. His wife, Imelda, endorsed Poe as guardian of the Marcos flame, and Marcos's heirs and cronies - including a number of unsavoury characters - joined Poe's camp. But that did not lessen his attraction for working-class voters, some of whom yearned for the stability of the Marcos era. Neither did revelations that he had fathered a "love child" by a movie starlet, Anna Marin.

His supporters still believe Poe was cheated of victory, although he too was accused of electoral fraud. Arroyo described him as "a good man, a worthy adversary in politics and a great Filipino". Imelda Marcos said: "It is sad that Fernando Poe Jnr, a truly good person, died of a broken heart, denied his vision of a dreamland country for the Filipino people." Poe's political aides said they were considering asking his actress wife, Susan Roces, to take over as opposition leader.

The Philippine Star announced Poe's death with the headline "Da King is dead". Alex Magno, a commentator for the newspaper, wrote: "He tapped into the well of fantasy of the Filipino Everyman, the imagination that he could be something larger than the drab everyday life he led."

Kathy Marks

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