It's been more than 30 years since Elvis Presley died in Memphis, but his Argentine counterpart survives in Buenos Aires - barely. According to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, Roberto Sánchez (popularly known as Sandro) is awaiting heart-and-lung transplants at age 63.
In the 1960s, Sandro electrified Argentina's popular music scene in much the same way Elvis did a decade earlier in the United States. In fact, Sandro mimicked Elvis at times and even covered some of his songs--such as a Spanish-language version of "Devil in Disguise"--but he developed his own style to become a rock en español icon. Internationally, he was popular enough to sell out New York's Madison Square Garden in the 1970s, and several Argentine acts, as well as Mexico's Molotov and Colombia's Aterciopelados, paid him tribute in the 1999 recording whose cover appears above. He also appeared in many (largely forgettable) movies.
Suffering from emphysema, Sandro can no longer sing and talks only with difficulty. From his house in the Buenos Aires province suburb of Banfield, surrounded by oxygen tanks, he now counsels young Argentines that "there is no return" from his drug of choice - tobacco - and says he can only wait his turn on the transplant list. Meanwhile, last Friday, the provincial Senate approved a law to restrict smoking in public places - far too late for the pioneer of Argentine rock and his three-packs-a-day habit. Even as New York's Roswell Park Cancer Institute, in a research project conducted for the World Health Organization, recommended a blanket ban on tobacco in all Buenos Aires province restaurants and bars, public health is such a low priority for the Chamber of Deputies that it has no plans to even debate the measure. Coincidentally or not, the provincial capital city of La Plata, where the legislature meets, has almost no tobacco restrictions.
Compare that to New York City's current approach under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.