Ko Chun-hsiung, a leading man of the 1970s

Taiwanese actor Ko Chun-hsiung (left) with Hong Kong actress Rachel Lee (far left) at the 1999 Golden Horse Awards ceremony in Taipei.
Taiwanese actor Ko Chun-hsiung (right) with Hong Kong actress Rachel Lee (left) at the 1999 Golden Horse Awards ceremony in Taipei. PHOTO: APPLE DAILY

TAIPEI • Actor Ko Chun-hsiung, a huge star of his generation whose debonair looks and roles in movie adaptations of Chiung Yao romantic novels made him popular, has died at age 70.

His agent confirmed his death early on Monday morning, reported Focus Taiwan News.

Apple Daily said the Taiwanese actor, who went into politics later in life, died in a Taipei hospital after battling final-stage lung cancer, which was diagnosed last year.

Sources at the hospital said he died around 10pm on Sunday.

Ko had been in and out of hospital and was admitted into intensive care last Thursday, reports said.

He underwent chemotherapy in May and last appeared in public in October at a film event wearing a facial mask and sounding frail.

A drinker and smoker, he was hospitalised in 2007 for liver abscess after excessive drinking, Apple said.

Born Ko Chun-liang, the Kaohsiung native started out in Hokkien films, but moved into Mandarin ones.

He won fame in 1965 in The Silent Wife, a movie based on a story from a book by Taiwanese romance novelist Chiung Yao, becoming the author's first leading man.

He was also known for his portrayal of war heroes in the resistance against Japanese invasion during World War II.

In 1968, he became the first Taiwanese to win the Best Actor Award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival for his role in Lonely Seventeen (1967).

He won in the same category at the festival in 1976 for playing a general in The Everlasting Glory, one of the patriotic movies of the 1970s he was known for. Another film that embellished his heroic screen image was Eight Hundred Heroes (1977).

He was crowned Golden Horse Best Actor twice - in 1979 for A Teacher Of Great Soldiers and in 1999 for playing general Cao Cao of The Three Kingdoms' era in Generation Pendragon, a film which he co-directed.

In his career of nearly 50 years, he acted opposite many famous actresses, including Sylvia Chang, Chen Chen, Lin Ching-hsia and Hsu Feng. He also set up two studios, writing and directing his own movies.

Hong Kong actor Andy Lau, 54, who recalled acting in films such as 1990's war film A Home Too Far with Ko, said: "Big Brother Ko was always full of heroic spirit... The film world is less one tower of strength. I wish Big Brother a good journey."

Chen, 67, said: "He was serious about work and his acting is among the best in Chinese movies. We are full of regret. A big star has fallen."

Ko's other Chiung Yao movies included Chun Gui He Chu (1967) and The Sixth Dream (1968).

After stepping away from films, he went into politics and served as a legislator for four years. He returned to acting in 2011 in television dramas including Father And Son and Feng Shui Family.

He was famously married for 34 years to Taiwanese beauty and screen star Chang Mei-yao, who reportedly endured gossip about him and his affairs in silence. They had two daughters.

They divorced in 2004 after he had a son and a daughter with fashion designer Jenny Tsai, whom he later married.

Chang died of heart and lung failure in 2012, aged 71.

After her death, Ko told reporters that she "did no wrong in this marriage, I was in the wrong".

He leaves behind Tsai and their two children.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline Ko Chun-hsiung, a leading man of the 1970s . Subscribe