Chilean Singer/Actor Antonio Prieto Dies at 85

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Chilean singer/actor Antonio Prieto passed away from heart failure July 14, 2011, at the age of 85 in Santiago, Chile and will be buried in Vina del Mar, Chile, July 16. During his 50-year career Prieto recorded over 1000 songs, acted in more than 33 films and had the first variety television show in South America. As an actor, he is best known internationally for the role of Don Miguel Rojo, the eldest of the bandit brothers in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood. Considered by music critics as an icon of the Latin Bolero genre, his biggest international hit was “La Novia” (“The Wedding”).

Chilean singer/actor Antonio Prieto passed away a victim of cardiac arrest 9:45 p.m., July 14, 2011, at the age of 85 at a private clinic in Santiago, Chile. Prieto was known in Latin America as “The Romantic of the Romantics.” As the Frank Sinatra of Latin America, he was said to have a voice that made people fall in love. During his 50-year career Prieto recorded over 1000 songs, acted in more than 33 films and had the first variety television show in all of South America, which aired in Chile, Argentina, Spain and Mexico. In the 1950s, he was brought to the US by friends Fernando Lamas and Esther Williams with a contract to make 10 films. In 1965 he performed at the legendary Hollywood Bowl and in 1995 a 20 Greatest Hits CD of his work was released.

Born Juan Antonio Espinoza Prieto on May 26, 1926, in Northern Chile, he was considered by critics as an icon of the Latin Bolero genre and first became a star in the 1950s. His charm and versatility made him one of the most popular singers of his time. Prieto’s singing of such songs as “La Barca” and “El Reloj” by Mexican composer Roberto Cantoral gained him international fame. In 1961 his greatest hit, “La Novia,” was translated into several languages and played at millions of weddings across the Latin world. The song was later known as “The Wedding” in the United States and United Kingdom, where it also achieved great success. Although the song was about a man who is watching the love of his life get married to someone else, in his real life Prieto married the woman of his dreams, who passed away over a decade ago.

Early on in his career Prieto studied with Marcel Marceau and applied that showmanship to his work. Although he has acted in over 33 films, he is best known internationally for the prominent role of Don Miguel Rojo, the eldest of the three bandit Rojo brothers in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars along side Clint Eastwood. He also appeared in the international 1963 release of The Sword of Zorro among others.

Prieto was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2002 and lost his voice a few years later. Following his diagnosis he began compiling his artistic legacy. He commenced putting in order his hundreds of musical recordings, the films in which he performed and homemade tapes made with friends like Joao Gilberto and Alberto Cortez. He also began work on an autobiography, which was completed by journalist Gonzalo Rojas, and took part in compiling his 100 greatest hits. He has lived away from the public spotlight for the last few years.

Antonio Prieto will be buried Saturday, July 16, in the city of Vina del Mar, Chile, where he lived with his family before becoming ill. He is survived by four children and 13 grandchildren. His friendship will especially be missed by his son-in-law, bass virtuoso and film composer Stanley Clarke. Prieto will live forever in his music and his family and fans’ memories of his powerful presence.

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Diane Hadley
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