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Tough guy Arnie chooses to have heart operation

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hollywood's action man and a former Mr Universe, is recovering in hospital after undergoing heart surgery to correct a congenital heart valve condition.

Although the condition had not caused the star any health problems, he was taking no risks and elected to have the surgery which was carried out on Wednesday, at an undisclosed hospital in the Los Angeles area.

The actor's spokeswoman, Catherine Olim, said he was expected to make a full recovery.

Schwarzenegger, who is married to television newscaster Maria Shriver, a niece of the late President John F. Kennedy, had the surgery to replace an aortic valve.

In a statement, the 49-year-old actor said: "I've never felt sick or had any symptoms at all, but I knew I'd have to take care of this condition sooner or later. I said to the doctors: Let's do it now while I'm young and healthy."

Schwarzenegger was born in Graz, Austria, and came to the United States in 1968 where he became a bodybuilding star, winning more than 10 bodybuilding championships, including five Mr Universe titles. He retired undefeated as Mr Olympia.

After appearing in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, Schwarzenegger went on to star in a string of Hollywood blockbusters including Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator. His most recent film, Eraser, was a box office hit last summer.

He has also recently worked with the White House to promote good health and exercise.

His publicist said he was expected to rest after his surgery until the end of May when he will begin promoting his new movie, Batman and Robin, in which he plays the villain, Mr Freeze.