Lucho Gatica, the Chilean singer known as “the king of bolero,” has died at age 90. Gatica passed away Tuesday (Nov. 13) in Mexico City, where he resided.
His death immediately made headlines not only in Mexico and his native Chile, but around Latin America and Spain.
Known early in his career for his elegant style as well as his honeyed voice, Gatica was a South American Frank Sinatra whose renown as a Latin lover (musically speaking) pre-dated the rise of Julio Iglesias and influenced subsequent generations of Latin crooners. Like Sinatra, Gatica, known as the “king of bolero” appeared frequently in movie musicals in his heyday.
The Chilean singer burst onto the Latin scene in the early 1950s with records of “Me Importas Tú,” “Contigo en la Distancia,” “Besame Mucho” and other songs which are eternal gems of the Latin songbook. His interpretation of Roberto Cantoral’s “el Reloj” also became a signature.
Gatica recorded for Capitol Recorded in 1956, and the next year relocated to Mexico, which widened his exposure. Diverse artists including Nelly Furtado, Laura Pausini, Luis Fonsi, Il Volo and Chilean rocker Beto Cuevas recorded duets with Gatica for a 2013 tribute album, Hístoria de un Amor.
More than a half century earlier, in 1957, Gatica was asked by a writer for Chilean movie magazine Ecran if he felt threatened by rock and roll and Elvis Presley, who he’d met in Los Angeles when the American “king” was filming Jailhouse Rock.
“As far as the competition that rock and roll could present for melodic music, I am not afraid of it,” Gatica said at the time. “The new rhythm doesn’t have to displace the bolero. There are enough fans for both.”
On the occasion of his 90th birthday this past Aug. 11, a bronze statue of Gatica was unveiled in his native city, Rancagua, Chile. Gatica had seven children and 11 grandchildren.
The exact cause of the Latin music great’s death was not immediately known.