Sandro has finally left the building. Nearly two years after I wrote that he was awaiting heart-and-lung transplant surgery, which he underwent in November, Roberto Sánchez - the “Elvis of Argentina” - died yesterday in Mendoza’s Hospital Italiano, age 64.
Today, every newspaper in the country features a photograph or caricature of “El Gitano” on its front page, and TV screens everywhere are featuring 24/7 coverage of the first Latin American singer to perform at New York’s Madison Square Garden. For most of the day, his body has been lying in state in the Congreso Nacional (which, one might well argue, is a greater accomplishment than anything else to come out of Argentina’s notoriously dysfunctional legislature in many years). For most of the day, blocks-long lines of his adoring “chicas,” many of them now grandmothers, have been filing past the body, which was flown to Buenos Aires from Mendoza and will be interred in a private cemetery at Burzaco, a Buenos Aires suburb.
One could also argue, meanwhile, that Sandro - a heavy smoker who suffered so badly from emphysema that he sang attached to an oxygen tank in his last performances - was an unsuitable candidate for such major surgery. Whether or not his celebrity gave him access to organs that could have done more good for a younger, otherwise healthier candidate, in his last years he became an outspoken tobacco critic.
He also took responsibility for his health problems: ''I am to blame for the condition that I am in. I deserve it; I sought it out. I picked up this damn cigarette.'' In today’s Argentina, where virtually every province has enacted surprisingly effective tobacco-control legislation, a contemporary Sandro might have a longer, healthier life.
The best English-language coverage of Sandro’s life and legacy appears in the Buenos Aires Herald, particularly in a column by Pablo Toledo, but look for other Herald links as well.
Late update: according to TV reports from Buenos Aires, Sandro remained available for viewing throughout the night, with lines stretching anywhere from eight to 13 blocks. It finally closed around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, but reopened at 10.