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Anita Mui

Actress and singer

Anita Mui, one of Asia’s best-loved actresses and pop singers, often called the “Asian Madonna,” died Tuesday in Hong Kong from cancer complications. She was 40.

Friends, family and fans, plus superstar Jackie Chan and singer Alan Tam, held a vigil at the hospital where she had been admitted.

Star or co-star of nearly 50 films (including some of Chan’s biggest), Mui began her performing career singing in nightclubs at age 4 and got her break in the early 1980s after winning a talent competition.

Over the next 20 years she starred in films opposite Chan (“Rumble in the Bronx,” “Drunken Master II”), Jet Li (“The Enforcer”) and Stephen Chow (“Top Bet”).

Her close friendship with Chan was well known in Hong Kong. The two became business partners in 1997 when they, with other friends in the entertainment industry, opened the Star East celebrity-themed restaurant chain.

But Mui was best known as a pop diva, recording 39 albums in Mandarin, Japanese and, mostly, Cantonese. In the first 10 years of her career she sold more than 10 million records. Her popularity continued into the next decade with a series of image makeovers that led to her being dubbed the “Asian Madonna.”

She was also an active pro-democracy campaigner and, since her elder sister’s death from cancer in 2000, a busy fund-raiser for cancer charities. Just two weeks before her death, she was slated to headline a money-raising event for the Children Cancer Foundation, though she was too ill to attend.

Mui died just four months after revealing to the Hong Kong public that she had cervical cancer. At that time, she vowed to beat the disease, and she continued performing until the end of November. She was also slated to be in Zhang Yimou’s latest pic, “House of Flying Daggers,” currently in production in China’s Sichuan Province. As late as mid-December, there were reports she would still take up the role.

News of her death shocked fans across Asia and Chinese communities worldwide. Sales of her records and DVDs of recent concerts sold out throughout the region.

For Hong Kong, this is the second untimely death of a well-loved performer in a year, following the suicide of actor-singer Leslie Cheung in April.

Local press reports showed stars including Chan, Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng and Michelle Yeoh visiting Mui in the hospital the night before she died.

She was not married, and other survivor information was not available.

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