Fernando Poe Jr., a popular Philippine movie star and former presidential candidate, died on Dec. 14 after suffering a stroke. He was 65.
Born Ronald Allan Kelley Poe, he was the son of Filipino actor Fernando Poe Sr. and Elizabeth Kelley, an American. His elder brother was technically named Fernando Poe Jr., but Ronald later adopted the moniker. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and took a job delivering messages for a film exchange office. At 15, Poe entered show business as a stuntman for Everlasting Pictures. He made his acting debut in the 1955 film “Son of Palaris.”
Known as “Da King” or simply FPJ, Poe found his niche playing underdog heroes. He appeared in more than 200 films, including several based on true stories, and won the Philippine equivalent of the Academy Award four times. Over the course of his five-decade career, Poe directed nine movies and ran several production companies.
At the urging of his countrymen, particularly ex-president Joseph Estrada, Poe decided to capitalize on his popularity and enter the political arena. The self-made millionaire had no experience in public service and little education, yet ran as the Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino’s candidate for president in the May 2004 election. Although he was born in the Philippines, Poe’s bloodline came into question during the campaign. After months of attacks, the Philippine Supreme Court declared him a natural born citizen who was qualified to run.
Poe liked to use his famous movie one-liners in stump speeches and ran on a platform that promised to help the poor. (His campaign slogan was “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.”) Despite support from fellow celebrities, Poe lost the election against incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by 1.1 million votes. In July, he petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify Arroyo’s victory and accused the sitting president of electoral fraud. Arroyo’s campaign team denied any wrongdoing; the court has yet to rule on the matter.
Poe is survived by his wife, actress Susan Roces, and two children.