Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza (born January 15, 1951), better known as Charo, is a Spanish-American actress, comedienne, and flamenco guitarist, best known for her flamboyant stage presence, her provocative outfits, and her trademark phrase ("cuchi-cuchi").
Date of birth
Official documents in Murcia, Spain (where she was born) state that she was born in 1931 while the United States indicated she was born in 1941, but Charo has insisted she was born in 1941 but she persuaded a United States court to decree 1951 birth year as official.
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 was born María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza in Murcia, Region of Murcia, Spain. Charo's father was 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. He once spoke of his pupil in an interview and remembered giving her career advice. "Stop saying 'cuchi-cuchi' so much, Charo! Be serious!" (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. She has been named "Best Flamenco Guitarist" in Guitar Player Magazine's readers' poll twice.
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 already been married four times (Rita Montaner, Carmen Castillo, Lorraine Allen, and Abbe Lane) although 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 girlfriend 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 was the first to have their nuptials in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
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 West 257th Street in the New York City borough of The Bronx 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 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 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 Rasten (born 1982), who is the drummer for the heavy metal band Treazen.
Throughout the 1970s, she was a highly visible personality, appearing eight 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 ABC network had "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. The few episodes that were taped ended up being broadcast on the American Armed Forces Network overseas. "
By the late 1970s, Charo was being mentioned as an example of how overexposure could damage a celebrity. One such article quoted the "Q score" of Performer Q, Steve Levitt's celebrity popularity rating service, to show that the performer's popularity declined slightly even as her familiarity increased:
For much of the late 1980s and 1990s 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. Because of the large number of Japanese immigrants to the island state, Charo learned to speak Japanese. 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 guest appearances on the Fox Network's That '70s Show and appearances in VH1's I Love the '70s retrospectives. 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). Charo appeared as the Celebrity Showtime entertainer aboard Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas on its January 4 and January 13, 2008, sailings, and on the Adventure of the Seas on its August 10, 2008, sailing. She was a Celebrity Grand Marshal of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, 2008. She was accompanied by hordes of Charo look-alikes on a pink float. On May 23, 2008, she was a guest on GSN Live.
She returned to the dance music scene in June 2008 with the single "España Cañi". The single was released through Universal Wave Records. She performed Rihanna's song "Don't Stop the Music" at the 2009 Muscular Dystrophy Association Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.
Charo appeared as the Celebrity Showtime entertainer aboard Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas cruise ship on Christmas Eve, 2009. She also appeared on the Royal Caribbean ship Adventure of the Seas on Thursday, February 25, 2010. She continues to entertain guests on Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas in May 2010. In April 2010, she made a guest appearance on Dancing with the Stars. In 2010, she made a guest appearance on the Disney television show, The Suite Life on Deck. Charo made an appearance on "Watch What Happens Live!" on February 22, 2011, where she promoted a new song, "Sexy! Sexy!". On May 23, 2011, Charo performed parts of her Las Vegas show on the Disney Magic cruise ship's Eastbound Transatlantic crossing to standing ovations. The first half of the show were more pop oriented pieces while the second half was her playing classical Spanish guitar. She noted her seven years of study with Andres Segovia several times during this portion of the show. She appeared later in the cruise at an informal autograph-signing session. Charo appeared as a celebrity guest judge on RuPaul's Drag U, episode 5, season 2.
Cuchi-Cuchi (1977) (with the Salsoul Orchestra)
Olé Olé (1978) (with the Salsoul Orchestra)
Bailando con Charo (Dancing with Charo, 1981) (with the Salsoul Orchestra)
Guitar Passion (1994)
Blame It on the Macarena (1996)
Gusto (Pleasure, 1997)
Charo and Guitar (2005)
1976: "La Salsa"
1977: "Dance A Little Bit Closer" (US Dance #18); UK #44
1978: "Mamacita, ¿dónde está Santa Claus? (Mommy, Where's Santa Claus?)"
1978: "Olé Olé" (US Dance #36)
1979: "Sha Na Na"
1979: "Stay With Me" (US Dance #55)
1979: "Hot Love"
1981: "La Mojada (Wet Back)"
2003: "Prisionera De Tu Amor" (with Seductive Souls)