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Legendary Tamil actor and comedian Vivek passes away

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Celebrated Kollywood actor and comedian Vivek passed away in the wee hours of Saturday aged 59. He was admitted to a private hospital in Chennai on Friday due to a sudden cardiac arrest and succumbed to it on Saturday. 

Tamil actors, politicians and the general public flooded to Vivek’s residence in the neighbourhood of Virugambakkam to pay their last respects where he lay in state. 

An accomplished actor, Vivek was also widely admired for his social work. Particularly noted was his mission to plant 10 million tree saplings across Tamil Nadu at the behest of former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. 

                                                                                                 Vivek with Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Since he launched the ‘Green Kalam’ Project in 2011, he had planted over 3 million saplings and also encouraged the youth in the state to take up the activity with enthusiasm. 

Vivek carved out a niche for himself in Tamil cinema creating an idiosyncratic brand of comedy through which he also conveyed important social messages. 

Known as ‘Chinna Kalaivanar’ after the popular Tamil comedian late N.S. Krishnan, Vivek became wildly popular through the roles he played in the 1990s and 2000s. 

Tributes poured in for Vivek from across Tamil society and beyond.

Fellow comedian and Vivek’s contemporary and friend Vadivelu posted a lachrymose video and said that the passing of "my friend Vivek" caused him “sorrow that constricts the throat.” 

Other Kollywood personalities including Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, A.R. Rahman and Sarath Kumar tweeted their condolences. Actors Surya, Karthi, Vijay Sethupathi and many others paid their respects in person at Virugambakkam. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences to Vivek and said through “his (Vivek’s) films and his life, his concern for the environment and society shone through.” 

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamy and Opposition Leader M.K. Stalin expressed their grief at Vivek’s passing. “Nobody can replace him. His acting and his social work will continue to live on and occupy an irreplaceable spot in the hearts of the Tamil people,” Palaniswamy said. 

“A multi-talented person, Vivek created awareness among the people through his comedy and acting. Why did nature snatch a person like Vivek, who still had the potential to do more, so early?.” Stalin said in a tweet. 

Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) Chief Seeman offered his final respects in person and said, “An incident that nobody expected has come to pass. My dear brother Vivek was a man that everyone was fond of. The heart fails to accept that he is gone.” 

Vivek’s funeral procession began on Saturday evening and his body was laid to rest with full state honours. Scores of fans, some of them weeping, flocked to his funeral procession and paid their last respects as he was cremated. 

Vivek was born into a humble family in Tirunelveli in 1961. After securing a master’s degree in Commerce in the American College in Madurai, he served as a bureaucrat in the Tamil Nadu Secretariat in Chennai. 

He simultaneously dabbled in the arts in the Chennai Humour Club. Veteran director K. Balachander introduced him as an actor in the film Manathil Uruthi Vendum in 1987. 

                                                           Vivek in K. Balachander's Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal (1989)

He came into his own as a comedian in the 1990s and early 2000s and established himself as a major actor through movies like Kadhal Mannan (1998), Vaali (1999), Kushi (2000) and Saamy (2003). 

He won the Best Comedian Award from the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards five times and also secured a number of Filmfare Awards. The Government of India gave him the Padma Shri Award, the fourth highest civilian honour in the country. 

                                                                                                                  Vivek in Saamy (2003)

Alongside propagating social messages in films, he exhorted the youth to take up planting tree saplings as a serious initiative. 

In a protest organised by the Kollywood Actors’ Federation outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in 2014, Vivek denounced Sri Lanka’s abuse against Tamil women during the course of the armed liberation conflict. He also condemned a Sri Lankan’s newspaper controversial portrayal of then Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha. 

In a speech delivered in Batticaloa in 2019, he said; “Do you know how will Tamil continue to live? As long as the last Ilankai Tamil exists, nobody can erase Tamil.” 

Whilst he maintained physical fitness by engaging in activities like cycling and yoga, Vivek was mentally devastated by the death of his son in 2015, aged 13, due to brain fever. 

He continued to act in comic and character roles and actively participated in social activism. One day before he was admitted to the hospital, he took his COVID-19 vaccine in a government hospital and addressed a press conference urging the people to volunteer to receive their jabs. 

He stressed the importance of getting vaccinated in the press meet and explained that he took his jab at a government hospital rather than in a private one in order to encourage the common masses to follow suit.

Vivek is survived by his wife and two daughters. 

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