Indian film star J. Jayalalithaa, who had a long career as chief minister of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, died Dec. 5 at a hospital in Chennai following a heart attack, doctors announced. She was 68 and had been ailing for a few months.

Known as “Amma,” or mother, to the citizens of her state, she served four turns as chief minister since taking over from M.G. Ramachandran, the founder of the AIADMK party, and then winning the position in 1991. Although she had been ailing for some time, any mention of her illness was forbidden by the state even though speculation was rife about her health. O. Panneerselvam was sworn in as her successor.

Prior to her political career, Jayalalithaa starred in more than 100 films, mostly with Ramachandran, who was a major matinee idol in Tamil films for decades. She began her career in 1961 in “Epistle,” credited as Jayalalitha. An extra A was added to her name for good luck in 2001. Her first Tamil film was 1965’s “Venira Aadai.” She acted in Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu films in the fashion of most Indian actresses who tried their hand in different languages.

Her career took off after she co-starred with Ramachandran, popularly known by his initials, MGR, in 1965’s “Ayirathil Oruvan”; film also starred M.N. Nambiar and comic Nagesh. She was the ingenue in film after film, including “Gowri Kalyanam,” “Kumari Penn,” “Yaar Nee?,” “Adimai Penn,” (in both of which she essayed a double role), and “Motar Sundaram Pillai.”

She was accused of corruption as chief minister and briefly jailed in neighboring Karnataka state, which led to riots demanding her release.

Khushboo Sundar, another actress and Congress party spokeswoman, told the BBC: “It’s very painful for me. Despite our political differences, I had respected her. We were hoping against hope, none of us wanted her to lose this battle.

“She was a symbol of strength for women like me. She fought against so many odds to make a name for herself in a male-dominated profession like politics. We have a lost a great politician, and a great champion of women’s rights.”