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Fernando Poe, 65; actor lost bid for Philippines presidency

MANILA -- Action-film star and presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., who refused to concede May's election, died yesterday after suffering a stroke. He was 65.

Mr. Poe had complained of dizziness while dining with friends and employees at his suburban Manila film studio. He was brought late Saturday to St. Luke's Hospital, where doctors diagnosed a blood clot in his brain, and he later fell into a coma, his neurologist, Abdias Aquino, said. He died at the hospital early yesterday.

Mr. Poe was a hero to millions of poor Filipinos who embraced the fast-punching, straight-shooting underdog hero he typically played in more than 200 action films.

He also played true-to-life heroes, including decorated policemen, and appeared in several World War II movies as a soldier or guerrilla fighting Japanese invaders.

A five-time winner in the local version of the Oscars, one of his most memorable roles was a true story -- a teacher who became a rebel leader fighting greedy landlords and bureaucrats in the 1920s, when the Philippines was still an American colony.

In his last movie, ''Pakners," local slang for partners, released in May, he was the buddy of a billiards player portrayed by real-life Filipino pool champion Efren ''Bata" Reyes.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called Mr. Poe ''a worthy adversary in politics and a great Filipino."

''I mourn with millions of Filipinos who loved him dearly and held him as symbol of their deepest aspirations," she said in a statement.

Mr. Poe, better known as ''Da King" or simply FPJ, started appearing in movies in his teens and never held public office. He had come under pressure from politicians, especially supporters of his close friend and another former actor, ousted President Joseph Estrada, to capitalize on his popularity and seek the presidency in the May 10 election.

''In the life of man, there comes a time that he will have to make a very tough decision. And that day has come for me," Mr. Poe said in announcing his candidacy. He said he hoped to unite the divided nation because ''I am not a politician."

Despite support from the poor, who overwhelmingly voted for Estrada in 1998, Mr. Poe couldn't deliver.

His rallies were colorful and glitzy, with celebrity friends telling jokes and Mr. Poe uttering a few lines from his movies. But they lacked political substance as Mr. Poe, a high school dropout and political novice, struggled to challenge the tough-minded, hands-on incumbent, Arroyo.

He stonewalled requests for interviews and grew increasingly surly with the media, once berating a reporter during a live broadcast while he was on stage.

Mr. Poe was born to an American mother, Elizabeth Kelley, and a popular Filipino actor, Fernando Poe Sr., whose ancestors were Spanish. Mr. Poe's lineage became the subject of a petition questioning his Filipino citizenship and eligibility for the presidency. He fought it off, but it still caused damage.

Mr. Poe lost the election by 1.1 million votes. Two months later, he asked the Supreme Court to nullify Arroyo's victory, accusing the president of massive electoral fraud. Arroyo's camp denied any wrongdoing and expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would eventually throw out Mr. Poe's protest.

According to Representative Francis Escudero, his spokesman, the night Mr. Poe felt sick he told his childhood friends who sat at the dinner table with him: ''I feel good. I came out of the campaign, of the entire experience stronger, a better person."

Mr. Poe leaves his wife, actress Susan Roces, and two children.

He will be buried Dec. 22 at Manila's North Cemetery, next to his parents and brother.

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