Born on June 24, 1928 to Manayangath Subramanian and Narayanikutty in Kerala, MSV made his showbiz debut as a child artiste in Kannagi. He told his biographer that his mother once wanted to 'kill' him to "escape from abject poverty and lack of support." However, he was saved by his grandfather.
His childhood tryst with music only included a few instances where he listened to music with his father. He also talked about the time when he would stand outside local music teacher Neelakanta Bhagavathar's house and learn while he taught other students.
MSV was first noted for his musical talent at a festival when he enthralled the crowd with his command of the harmonium and singing. Mr Bhagavathar then took him under his tutelage and organised a three-hour concert for him. MSV's gave his first stage performance at the age of 13 in Trivandrum.
MSV's career in music had a few hiccups as he started off as an errand boy in 1942 SV Venkatraman's musical troupe. Here he met composer TK Ramamoorthy, with whom he later collaborated for at least 86 Tamil films in a decade-long association. Together, they've composed for films like Paasamalar, Sumaithaangi, Server Sundaram, Aayirathil Oruvan and Enga Veetu Pillai.
Before becoming an independent composer, MSV also composed music with mavericks like TG Lingappa, MS Gnanamani and TK Kalyanam. After 1965, MSV went on to become successful as a solo composer.
1965 heralded a new dawn in MSV's career. As a solo music composer he is known for tracks like Bama Vijayam, Galatta Kalyanam, Deivamagan, Moondru Dheivangal, Rickshawkaran, Bharatha Vilas and Ulagam Sutrum Valiban.
MSV also worked in Malayalam films such as Manthrakodi, Babu Mon, Ullasa Yathra and Amme Anupame.
In Telugu, his compositions include Tenali Ramakrishna, Anthuleni Katha, Idhi Katha Kaadu, Aakali Rajyam and Maro Charitra.
Apart from composing tracks, he also sang playback for at least 500 songs of his own and over 200 songs composed by other music directors.
From 1960-80, MSV worked with top directors, including CV Sridhar, K Balachander, KS Gopalakrishnan, KS Prakash Rao, NT Rama Rao, Visu, Mouli, Komal Swaminathan and others.
MSV, who had always wanted to be an actor, also tried his luck on the silver screen with films like Kaadhal Mannan, Kaathala Kaathala and Rojavanam. In the Nineties, he also made television appearances and even judged a Malayalam music reality show.
MS Viswanathan received many awards and titles including Paramacharya Award. In 2012, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa presented him with the 'Thirai Isai Chakravarthy' (The Emperor of Cine Music) title. She said in a statement released after his death that she had recommended MSV for the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honour.
She said that by scoring the music for Tamizh Thai Vazthu, MSV had secured a place in the hearts of every Tamilian. Tamil Nadu has adopted the song as its anthem.
After MSV's death, superstar Rajinikanth told IANS: "You will rarely find someone like MSV in any industry. He lived life like a selfless saint, free from jealousy and lies."
Tamil actor Kamal Haasan said in a statement: "MSV has blended into Tamil cinema history. He is part of Tamil and south Indian cultural tapestry. He has become the background score of many people's lives. They nostalgically recount their own life with his music."
MSV's wife Janaki died in 2012 and he is survived by four sons and three daughters.