KK, Bollywood Singer of ’90s Hits, Dies at 53 After a Concert

NEW DELHI — Krishna Kumar Kunnath, popularly known as KK, whose mellifluous voice gave India some of Bollywood’s biggest hit songs of the 1990s and 2000s, died on Tuesday after a performance in Kolkata. He was 53.

The death was confirmed by his publicist.

KK had been performing in an auditorium packed with college students when, after singing his last song of the evening, cameras caught him wiping his brow as he was led offstage in a hurry.

He was declared dead at a hospital soon after. The cause was not yet known, his publicist said.

Krishna Kumar Kunnath was born in 1968 in Delhi into a Malayali family — a people of mixed ethnic heritage from southern India. His parents were C.S. Nair and Kunnath Kanakavalli.

In college he took to rock and was a fan of Kishore Kumar, a well known Bollywood playback singer — a vocalist who dubs the songs for a movie’s lead character.

After a brief stint as a marketing executive, KK, as he was called, decided to follow his passion for music. With no mentor in the competitive recording industry, he initially struggled to make a name for himself, resorting to singing at hotels to make ends meet. He broke into Bollywood in 1996 with the movie “Maachis” (“Matchstick”), about the rise of the Sikh insurgency in Punjab.

As a playback singer, KK became the voice of Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Salman Khan. He recorded about 3,500 songs in 11 languages, mostly in Hindi, and released popular albums like “Pal” in 1999 and “Humsafar” (“Your Blessing”) in 2008.

With his shock of black hair and a boyish charm, KK earned the nickname “The Mesmerizer” for the way he could hold an audience under his sway with his smooth voice and easy demeanor.

“When I go to a concert, I am an underdog,” he told Indian news media in 2015, “but when I walk out, I am a prince.”

He sang of everything from heartbreak and sadness to love and friendship in songs like “Tadap Tadap Ke Is Dil Se Aah” (“Pining, This Heart Kept Crying Out for You”) “Bas Ek Pal” (“Just This Moment”) and “Aankhon Mein Teri” (“In Your Eyes”).

Millions of young Indians took to social media after his death in an outpouring of grief.

“There are some people who we have never met personally but somehow they have become an inseparable part of our lives,” one fan wrote. “KK was one such.

Cricket players, politicians, Bollywood actors, playback singers and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, all paid tribute on social media, and the state government of West Bengal honored KK with a gun salute.

He had been singing fewer Bollywood numbers in recent years because, he said, he wanted to “rediscover” himself, telling The Times of India in 2018 that he missed “the freedom to create your own songs and music.”

He is survived by his wife, Jyothi, whom he married in 1991; and two children, Nakul and Tamara.

Before his performance on Tuesday, KK posted a photo on his Facebook page showing him with arms outstretched toward the audience. “Pulsating gig tonight at Nazrul Mancha. Vivekananda College!!” he wrote. “Love you all.”

Dressed in jeans and a collared T-shirt and appearing much younger than his years, he shouted to the audience, “Sing along!” Waving their cellphones with the flashlights on, the audience swayed to the music.

His final song was “Pyaar ke Pal” (“Moments of Love”), a favorite from the album “Pal.” The lyrics seemed prophetic:

We may or may not be around, these moments will be remembered.

Moments, these are moments of love, come, come along with me.

Come, what are you thinking, it’s a short life.

If you get tomorrow, that would be good fortune.

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