Khan suffered from a neuroendocrine tumor and died surrounded by his family.
Irrfan Khan, an icon of the Bollywood film industry who reached international success with the Oscar-winning Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 53.
A spokesperson for the actor confirmed his death in a brief statement (via Reuters) and said he was surrounded by his family.
In March 2018, Khan revealed in a message shared on social media that he had been diagnosed with “a rare disease” that turned out to be a neuroendocrine tumor. “Sometimes you wake up with a jolt with life shaking you up. The last 15 days, my life has been a suspense story,” the actor wrote at the time. “Little had I known that my search for rare stories would make me find a rare disease. I have never given up and have always fought for my choices and always will.”
U.S. audiences have seen him across Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) with Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger, Jurassic World (2015) with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and Inferno (2016) with Tom Hanks, but the tributes pouring out from the Bollywood world in his home country of India reflect the impact he had on the industry.
“This is a most disturbing and sad news,” Amitabh Bachchan, a superstar of the Bollywood space, wrote in a tribute on Twitter. “An incredible talent .. a gracious colleague .. a prolific contributor to the World of Cinema .. left us too soon .. creating a huge vacuum .. Prayers and duas.”
Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, one of Khan’s close friends who directed him in 2015’s Piku, wrote, “You fought and fought and fought. I will always be proud of you.. we shall meet again.. condolences to Sutapa [his wife] and Babil [his son].. you too fought, Sutapa you gave everything possible in this fight. Peace and Om shanti. Irfaan Khan salute.”
Born Sahabzade Irrfan Ali Khan in 1967, the future actor wasn’t allowed to watch movies as a kid, according to Reuters, but his uncle would take him to the theatre. “No-one could have imagined I would be an actor, I was so shy, so thin,” he said. “But the desire was so intense.”
When his father died, Khan side-stepped his family’s tire business and went to study theatre at the National School of Drama in New Delhi. He then moved to Mumbai to pursue Bollywood jobs, but was stuck chasing small TV (particularly soaps) and movie parts for years. “Once, they didn’t even pay me because they thought my acting was so bad,” he admitted to The Guardian in 2013. A leading role in 2001’s BAFTA-winning The Warrior from director Asif Kapadia changed everything. “Asif and I have been longing to work together again since then,” he said. “I’ve been watching his last film [Senna]. There was a pirated DVD version in India I could have watched but I thought, ‘No, I want to watch it on a proper screen… I did eventually see it on a screen. A kind of tiny screen… on an airplane.”
After that, he’d go on to appear in films like 2006’s The Namesake, 2007’s A Mighty Heart, and 2010’s New York, I Love You. Director Danny Boyle would later describe Khan’s role in Slumdog Millionaire as “beautiful to watch.” Colin Trevorrow, who directed Khan in Jurassic World, called him “a thoughtful man who found beauty in the world around him, even in pain.”
“In our last correspondence,” Trevorrow continued, “he asked me to remember ‘the wonderful aspects of our existence’ in the darkest of days.”
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In a statement provided to EW, Lee said of his Life of Pi actor, “Irrfan was a great artist, a true gentleman and a brave fighter. His passing away is cinema’s loss. We will miss him dearly. May you Rest In Peace, my dear friend.”
“There are films which are like a one night stand: You indulge and you forget. I don’t enjoy those kinds of films very much,” Khan once told the BBC in 2013. “I try to do films which leave a longer impact, which speak to you and which keep coming back to you after you’ve seen them, I prefer movies which have a longer relationship.”
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