Spanish singer and actress Sara Montiel died Monday, April 8, at the age of 85.
Considered a legend of Spanish cinema and one of the first to make it to Hollywood, Sara Montiel, whose name was Maria Antonia Abad Fernandez, died at her home in Madrid after suffering a blackout, but so far her cause of death is unknown, according to her biographer, Peter Villora.
Sara Montiel, also known as Sarita Montiel or Saritisima, starred in hundreds of films and was a beauty icon for a generation. She lived a troubled love life and became famous for smoking cigars on stage when she sang.
“She was both actress and singer. But being an actress was her life’s dream,” said Peter Villora.
She began her career in Mexico in the late 40s with such successful films as Women’s Prison.
Sara Montiel soon made the leap to Hollywood, where she shot a supporting role in the legendary western Vera Cruz in 1955 alongside actors like Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster.
Her second film in the US was the musical Serenade, with the tenor Mario Lanza and Joan Fontaine starring as Vincent Price.
“She had the greatest international impact of all Spanish stars in cinema until Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz broke more barriers,” said the Spanish actor Jose Sacristan.
In her native country, where she had enjoyed little success before traveling to Mexico, Sara Montiel rose to stardom with The Last Couplet in 1957, one of the highest-grossing films in the history of Spanish cinema. For her next film, The Violetera, Sara Montiel collected more than a million dollars, something unheard of in those days.
After the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Sara Montiel left cinema and appeared in musicals, starring in vaudeville theaters and television.
One of her hallmarks was smoking cigars on stage, a habit that then seemed reserved only for men. Sara Montiel said it was Ernest Hemingway who taught her to smoke.
Sara Montiel was married three times, once to film director Anthony Mann and to two Spanish businessmen. For many years it was rumored she had affairs with Ernest Hemingway and iconic film stars like James Dean.