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María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza Rasten (born March 13, 1951, though other sources state 1941), better known as Charo, is a Spanish and American singer, dancer, comedian, actress and classical guitarist. She is known for her flamboyant stage presence, provocative outfits, and her trademark phrase ("cuchi-cuchi").
Charo was born in Murcia, Spain. Official documents in Spain and the United States indicate she was born in 1941, but Charo insists she actually was born in 1951, a claim that has been upheld in court. Read Full Bio >>
The performer has said in past interviews that her parents allowed her to falsify her age to appear to be older after marrying 66-year-old band leader Xavier Cugat when she was 15. Further complicating the question is the fact that contemporary press reports gave her age at marriage as 21, an April 1966 column on the wedding plans stated she was 20 and Cugat was 60, and columns less than two years before the marriage refer to her as Cugat's "18-year-old protegée"—which, if she was falsifying her age, would have made her actually 13 at the time.
In October 1977, — the same year in which Charo filed for divorce from Cugat and became an American citizen — a United States court upheld the 1951 birth year as official, with the performer providing a sworn statement from her parents in support of her claim. Commenting on the disputes over her age, she has said that the public's disbelief could prove advantageous: "But if people really believe I'm older, that's fine. Don't be surprised if I come out with my own cosmetics, a new energy bar and maybe some vitamins."
Charo is the daughter of a lawyer, who reportedly fled to Casablanca during Francisco Franco's dictatorship while her homemaker mother stayed behind in Murcia raising their children. She studied classical and flamenco guitar while residing in Murcia, and can claim Andrés Segovia as her guitar teacher (Segovia taught general music classes as community service in schools around Murcia). She took guitar lessons from him and other teachers from the age of nine on. As a result of her training and skill she has been named "Best Flamenco Guitarist" in Guitar Player Magazine's readers' poll twice. One of Charo's regrets is that because of her flamboyant stage presence, she has been overlooked as a serious guitar player.
When Charo was quite young, she was "discovered" by famous bandleader Xavier Cugat, whom she later wed on August 7, 1966. Cugat was 66 and had married four times before then, though contemporary reports sometimes listed fewer marriages; an April 1966 column by Earl Wilson on the couple's wedding plans announced, "Sixty-year-old Xavier Cugat and his 20-year-old Spanish girl friend and singing star Charo hope to get married in San Cugat, Spain, in a few days -- if Cugat can convince church authorities his two divorces should not be counted against him since he wasn't married in church." The couple were the first to have their nuptials in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Some fan magazines say that she learned English from Buddy Hackett.
In a February 2005 interview with the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, Charo claimed that her marriage to Cugat had been merely a "business contract," a way for him to legally bring her over to the United States, where he was based. She moved to 257th street in The Bronx, New York City along with her mother and aunt, and was regularly featured in shows with Cugat's orchestra in New York and Las Vegas, as well as in overseas engagements in Latin America and Europe. She claims he was confident in her eventual success from early on, and that she gave him a Rolls-Royce as a parting gift once she came of legal age.
Charo's first US TV appearance was on The Today Show in the mid-1960s. She later appeared on Laugh-In in 1968. She would appear on short chatfests of a few minutes near the end of the show with Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Her almost complete lack of fluency in the English language was played as a comic focus, and she would have the two hosts practically on the floor laughing at her mangled English. This is also the time that the "cuchi cuchi' line passed into the public arena.
She was headlining Vegas shows by 1971, and reportedly being paid as much as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles or Dean Martin. In 1977, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States; that same year, she filed for divorce from Cugat, a petition that was granted April 14, 1978. On August 11, 1978 she married, as her second husband, Kjell Rasten, a producer, in South Lake Tahoe, California, in a civil ceremony attended by 30 guests. Rasten soon became his wife's manager, and the couple has one child, a son, Shel (born 1982), who is the drummer for the metal band Treazen.
Throughout the 1970s, she was a highly visible personality, appearing 8 times on The Love Boat, as well as on variety and talk shows such as Donny & Marie, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Captain and Tennille, The John Davidson Show, The Mike Douglas Show, which she guest-hosted at least once, and even the infamously short-lived Brady Bunch variety spinoff.
In 1975, Dallas Morning News critic Harry Bowman wrote that the Nickelodeod "penciled in ... a half-hour comedy starring the uninhibited wife of Xavier Cugat" and commented, "This is probably the worst idea of the season." By October of that year, the performer was promoting a special slated for November, but the special did not actually appear until May, 1976. A TV listing for August 24, 1976, shows what appears to be an unsold pilot airing on ABC at 8:30 pm CST: "Charo and the Sergeant - Situation comedy starring Charo Cugat. Charo's first U.S. job is to be a dancer at an off-limits night club, and her conservative Marine Corps husband finds out."
By the late 1970s, Charo was being mentioned as an example of how overexposure could damage a celebrity; one such article quoted Steve Levitt's "Q score" research to show the performer's popularity declined slightly even as her familiarity increased:
During much of the late 1950s to late 1970s Charo had limited visibility as she moved to Hawaii, and opened and performed at her own dinner theater while she and Rasten raised their son. In the 2000s, she returned to television in commercials for Sprint wireless phone service and GEICO insurance, as well as guest appearances on Hollywood Squares, a season-three stint on the celebreality series The Surreal Life, as a one off guest in Fox Network's "That '70s Show" and appearances in VH1's "I Love the '70s" retrospectives. Most recently, on May 11, 2008. she made a guest appearance on the Latin-themed VH1 reality show "Viva Hollywood".
She now has a regular touring show in addition to appearances in Branson, Missouri, and Las Vegas (which at one time were choreographed by Comedy Central actor/dancer Jade Esteban Estrada). She also donates her talents to Jerry Lewis's annual MDA telethon.
Charo appeared as the Celebrity Showtime entertainer aboard Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas on its January 4 & January 13, 2008 sailings. She will be a Celebrity Grand Marshal of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, 2008. She will be accompanied by hordes of Charo look-alikes on a pink float.
Charo also returned to the Dance music scene in June 2008 with the single "Espana Cani." The single was released through Universal Wave Records.
Her first four albums were made with the Salsoul Orchestra. << Less Bio
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