Madrid: Death of a Diva

Posted on June 2, 2006



You can live in a country for years, you can start to think that you really get a culture, and then, blammo, something like this happens to remind you that, no, you are always and will always be a foreigner. Rocio Jurado, famed singer of that unpalatable sap known as cancion espanoladied yesterday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. If you happened to be in Madrid, you could have joined the 22,000 people who turned out to pay their respects as her body lay on display in the Centro cultural de la villa.

Cancion espanola singers tend to be of a type: buxom, leaning toward stocky and away from pretty (though you would think they all looked like Giselle Bundchen from the way they carry themselves). They marry bullfighters and have children who grow up to cause them heartache, and then, as if in middle-aged revenge, they adopt one or two more, usually from Latin American countries. They squeeze into flamenco dresses for their annual pilgrimage in honor a favored Virgin. They mount expensive comeback tours. They are regularly featured in the pages of Hola!. And when they die, their passing is greeted with the fervor that normally accompanies dead popes and dictators.

When Lola Flores, another cancion espanola singer–she also dabbled in flamenco and appeared in a number of films–died a little over a decade ago, her son was so overcome that he killed himself. And no one here, no one, thought to suggest that perhaps that response was a little extreme. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised yesterday that the morning news was completely–I mean, not one second devoted to anything else–given over to Rocio’s death. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that among those who paid their respects yesterday were the King himself and Pedro Almodovar, just back from Cannes.

And I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that her remains, already viewed by those tens of thousands in Madrid, are again on view this morning in Chipiona, her hometown. I shouldn’t be surprised, but instead I keep wracking my brain for a corollary that will make sense of it all. Would Americans have this response to the passing of, say, Barry Manilow?