PARIS (AP) — Flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata, who sold nearly 100 million records worldwide and broke boundaries for Gypsy musicians, has died in southern France. He was 93.
De Plata died in a Montpellier retirement home early Wednesday surrounded by his extended family, his great nephew, Ricao Bissiere, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Bissiere called him a "great guitarist and a beautiful man who opened the doors for Gypsy music."
De Plata sold around 93 million records in a career that spanned over half a century. Despite acquiring a fortune as one of France's best-selling recording artists, he died practically penniless — spending his fortune on "roulette, fancy cars, going out and beautiful women," according to Bissiere.
"He loved life. He was a character," Bissiere added.
Born Ricardo Baliardo in a caravan in southern France in 1921 to a French Gypsy family, De Plata first mastered the guitar at age 9, without even being able to read music.
He went on to wow crowds with his flamenco strumming in French Riviera cafes, watched by artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, writer Jean Cocteau and actress Brigitte Bardot.
Picasso once exclaimed "that man is of greater worth than I am!" when he heard him at Arles in 1964 and drew on his guitar.
As his talent became clear, he changed to his recording name, Manitas de Plata, meaning "little hands of silver" in Spanish.
He was a legendary ladies' man and De Plata himself once admitted he didn't know how many children he had fathered in his life, thought to be more than 20.
The guitarist was a strong influence on the Gipsy Kings and strengthened his reputation in the U.S. after playing New York's Carnegie Hall in the 1965.
His funeral will take place on Saturday in Montpellier.
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