Xavier Cugat, the Spanish-born band leader who introduced the tropical beat of the rumba to millions of Americans, died Saturday. He was 90.
Cugat died of heart failure in a Barcelona hospital, doctors Jorge Rius and Jaime Pujadas said in a statement. He had checked into the hospital Oct. 8 with a lung infection and failure of his left ventricle."Coogie," as he became known to millions of Americans and Europeans, became a star in the early 1930s playing Latin dance music at the Coconut Grove club in Los Angeles and later at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
Cugat and his band, the Gigolos, were featured in several popular Hollywood movies in the 1940s and 1950s.
Born Jan. 1, 1900, in San Cugat del Valles near Barcelona, Cugat began as a violinist at age 12 with the Havana Symphony in Cuba, where his parents moved when he was 4 to escape political persecution. He had first appeared with the Cuban orchestra six years earlier as a guest performer.
Later, the 12-year-old musician, with his violin under his arm and "not a penny in my pocket," went to the United States. He became a citizen three years later.
Unable to find much work as a classical musician, he made his way to Hollywood, where he drew caricatures of movie stars for the Los Angeles Times.
Rudolf Valentino told Cugat he had to dance the tango in a silent film and asked the musician to put together a band to accompany him.
That was the beginning of Cugat and his Gigolos.
Cugat was married and divorced five times.