MADRID (AP) — Paco de Lucia, one of the world's greatest guitarists who dazzled audiences with his lightning-speed flamenco rhythms and finger work, has died in Mexico, officials said Wednesday. He was 66.
The Spaniard had a heart attack while on vacation at the Caribbean beach resort of Playa del Carmen and died in a hospital, Quintana Roo state attorney general Gaspar Armando Garcia told Mexico's Enfoque Radio. Spain's consul in Quintana Roo, Javier Maranon, said the heart attack happened in his house in Xpu-Hak, near Tulum, where he spent a good part of the year, living the rest in Spain.
"Paco lived as he wished and died playing with his children beside the sea," said a statement from de Lucia's family published on the websites of Spanish newspapers.
Describing the death as unexpected and premature, Spanish Education and Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said de Lucia was "a unique and unrepeatable figure."
King Juan Carlos sent his condolences to the guitarist's widow, said consul Maranon.
De Lucia — whose real name was Francisco Sanchez Gomez — was best-known for flamenco but also experimented with other musical genres. One of his most famous recordings was "Friday Night in San Francisco," recorded with fellow guitarists John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola in 1980.
During the 1960s and 1970s, he formed an extremely popular duo with late flamenco singer legend Camaron de la Isla, with the two working together on 10 records.
His 1973 rumba "Entre Dos Aguas" (Between Two Waters) became one of the most popular recordings in Spain.
De Lucia was awarded the Spanish Culture Ministry's Fine Arts Gold Medal in 1992 and the prestigious Prince of Asturias prize for the Arts in 2004. He was granted a Doctor Honoris Causa degree by Berklee College of Music in 2010.
His last studio album "Cositas buenas" (Good Things) earned him his first Latin Grammy in 2004 while his 2012 live recording "En Vivo" (Live) received a second.
Despite his award-winning prestige, De Lucia said he disliked his work with a few exceptions.
"I am a perfectionist — sometimes it's sick," he told The Associated Press in a 2012 interview. "I don't like any of my albums. The ones I like, I mean, that I can stand to hear are "Siroco" and "Zyryab," possibly because they are more flamenco and among the purest in my career."
Born Dec. 21, 1947, de Lucia was immersed in flamenco music from an early age, with his father, Antonio, and two brothers playing guitar and a third brother an accomplished flamenco singer. He took his artistic name from that of his Portuguese mother, Lucia.
From a poor background, de Lucia's formal schooling ended when he was 11, and he was soon playing flamenco in local bars. At 14 he made his first record with his brother Pepe, "Los Chiquitos de Algeciras" (Kids of Algeciras).
"I didn't study music. I literally lived it. Flamenco was a way of life, a relationship with music, more than a career. I never learned about harmony or canons in music," he said.
Although de Lucia had no formal musical training, from an early age he impressed people with his remarkable dexterity, hand strength and technique that allowed him to produce machine-gun-like "picado" riffs so characteristic of flamenco guitar.
Arguably the most influential flamenco artist ever, he infused new life into the traditional form and is credited with modernizing it by introducing influences from other musical forms such as jazz, bossa nova, classical and salsa.
Although some of this drew criticism from flamenco purists, de Lucia defined his own influential sound by staying true to his flamenco roots.
His own sextet, formed in 1981, includes bass, drums and saxophone. In addition to his work with McLaughlin and Di Meola, his high-profile collaborations included work with guitarist Larry Coryell, and pianist Chick Corea, who joined Paco's sextet for the album "Zyryab" in 1990.
"Paco's moving on leaves a gigantic hole in the musical life of this world which his friends who have been inspired by him must fill with even more creativity," said jazz pianist Chic Corea. "Paco inspired me in the construction of my own musical world as much as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, or Bartok and Mozart."
In 1995 he played with Bryan Adams on the song "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman."
"Paco was and will be a universal artist, who took the guitar and flamenco sentiment to the heart of the whole world," said Jose Luis Acosta, president of the Spanish Artists and Editors Society.
Associated Press writers E.J. Tamara in Los Angeles and Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun, Mexico contributed to this report.