The fame and celebrity she earned as a successful actress would pale in comparison with what she would achieve in later years.
At 67, Jayalalithaa is a political giant not only in Tamil Nadu, where she will take oath as chief minister for the fifth time on Saturday, with two of her three terms punctuated by brief spells of political exile. Brand Jayalalithaa is an undeniable presence at the national level, most emphatically after last year's national election, when her party swept 37 of Tamil Nadu's 39 seats, making her AIADMK the third largest party in the Lok Sabha after the BJP and the Congress.
Her stunning victory in the assembly elections of 2011 had ensured that her party's tally of 11 in the Rajya Sabha or upper house of Parliament cannot be scoffed at either, especially in times when the BJP-led central government is in a minority in the house and often depends on regional parties like Jayalalithaa's to help it pass crucial legislation.
When Jayalalithaa was convicted in September last year in a corruption case by a Bangalore trial court, her political rivals celebrated the possibility that she would not be able to contest elections for another decade. That, they reckoned, would mean the end of the AIADMK, a party that revolves completely around its chief.
But eight months later, the Karnataka High Court has acquitted Ms Jayalalithaaa and she is back.
To her many supporters Jayalalithaa is Amma (mother) or Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader). She was Ammu to MG Ramachandran or MGR, her political mentor at whose statue she paid tribute in her first public appearance in eight months today.
She acknowledges MGR as one of the most important influences in her life. The other is her mother, Sandhya, an actress who fell on hard times and had to send her 15-year-old daughter to a film studio rather than college.
Jayalalithaa was born on February 24, 1948, in Mysore. She began schooling at the Bishop Cotton Girls High School in Bangalore and later attended the Presentation Convent at Church Park, Chennai, when her mother began a career as a Tamil film actress. The family had moved to Chennai after Jayalalithaa's father died when she was just two.
Jayalalithaa was a good scholar and is said to have wanted to become a lawyer and be rich. She wouldn't be a lawyer, but she would be rich - a successful film career lay ahead. Chinnada Gombe, her first film (in Kannada) was a major hit.
She was revolutionary and is said to have been the first to wear skirts on screen.
She starred in 28 films with Tamil Superstar MGR, who would later found the AIADMK.
Jayalalithaa's last film was Nadhiyai Thedi Vandha Kadal in 1980. In 1982, at the age of 34, she joined the AIADMK and went straight to the top echelons of the party as propaganda secretary, much to chagrin of many seasoned partymen, and was soon nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
MGR died in 1987, in harness as Chief Minister. The next year the AIADMK split with one faction supporting MGR's wife Janaki and the other supporting Jayalalithaa, who laid claim to her mentor's political legacy.
In 1991, Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time. She lost the 1996 Tamil Nadu elections and the DMK government that succeeded her filed the corruption case that she was acquitted in earlier this month.
She won her second term in 2001 and her third in 2011.
Jayalalithaa, who is single, speaks English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi fluently. MGR is said to have sent her to the Rajya Sabha as she spoke English very well.
An accomplished dancer, Jayalalithaa trained in classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Mohini Attam, Kathak and Manipuri and performed all over India. She also started learning Carnatic music at the age of four and sang several songs in her own films.
The AIADMK chief is a voracious reader and has a large private library with a huge collection of books. Her favourite authors are Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. Also Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, Pearl S Buck and James Hadley Chase.
Even as an actress, she would always carry books with her to the studio, and would sit quietly by herself in a corner and read between shots.