Long before the world was inundated with one-named celebrities, there was Charo. A TV fixture throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the Spain-born comedian, actress and flamenco guitarist charmed audiences with her beauty, sparkle and willingness to make fun of herself. “I said, ‘OK, I have an accent, and it’s never going to change,’” Charo, 71, tells Closer. “I’m going to have fun. Every time I open my mouth, it gets me in trouble, but I am turning my accent into a positive.”
That moxie has taken Charo far — and not just in her professional life. In 2019, she unexpectedly lost her husband-manager, Kjell Rasten, to suicide. The couple had been married for over 40 years and have one adult son together. “It’s unbelievable how overnight things can happen that can take you to the darkest place,” Charo says. “But there is a way to survive. You have to be strong.”
You’ve known difficult times before. Your family fled Spain during Francisco Franco’s reign. What do you recall of that period?
“I am nothing special. Every person has their own story. In the first few years of my life, we felt rich, but then overnight you don’t know where your father is and you see your mother crying quietly when she thought we weren’t watching. We were kicked out of the property that we owned for hundreds of years. I didn’t see my father again until I was 18.”
What was your father like?
“My father was an advocate for freedom, education and equality. Before he left Spain, he worked hard to make my sister and I understand that we needed an education. Education is priceless. He also made my sister and I swear we would never get involved with politics. If he had not, I would be a congresswoman today!”
“I swear, every time I watch the news, I find myself screaming. Somebody is supposed to speak the truth. I would be at the White House making trouble. I would! The only thing you can’t do is become president if you were not born in America, but I would love to be a congresswoman.”
How did you learn to play guitar?
“When we were rich, my grandmother made a deal with the Gypsies, Gitanos in Spanish, to stay on our land. Every sunset, they made a bonfire. They all gathered with their children, and they would sing through the night. My sister and I became close friends with those children, and I became obsessed with the sound of the guitar. At age 7, they let me play — I wasn’t good — but when you are a child, your brain is like a sponge.”
Later on, you took lessons from the famous classical guitarist Andrés Segovia.
“Andrés Segovia was a very special person. You could never forget him. [At the audition,] they asked me, ‘What are you doing here? You’re a little girl, and this is not for girls!’ I was pissed off, but I auditioned and, as they say in America, I got a second call.”
Where did your catchphrase “cuchicuchi” come from?
“My grandma loved animals with a passion. She had a dog — a mix between a Saint Bernard and a pit bull — they named him Cuchillo, which means knife. He was nasty with everyone but my family. He loved me and was my little angel. He had an injury, so he couldn’t wiggle left and right. He just wiggled up front when he was happy. I used to imitate him, which is how the movement started. And I used to call him ‘Cuchi’ because Cuchillo was a long word for a 3-year-old.”
We were so sorry to hear about the loss of your husband.
“What happened to me, I pray that never happens to anybody. He was on the steroid prednisone for a skin condition. If you read the side effects, it says in very little letters it can give you suicidal intentions. That’s what happened to him — with no reason, no discussion, no argument, no problem. The dog led me to where I found him.”
Do you have advice for other people about dealing with grief?
“My advice is to remember life counts. It is worth it, so don’t give up even when you’re feeling down. You have people near you that need you. And if someone needs to take prednisone, they should. It saves thousands of lives, but you have to be very careful about withdrawal and suicidal thoughts.”
What helped you through it?
“I kept thinking I’m going to go ahead and live life because my family needs me and I love them unconditionally. The media and Instagram saved my life, too. Little by little the nice comments from people reminded me of what I had done before. They brought me back, I swear.”
Do you think you will date again?
“I will never look at men — and, believe me, I love men! My man died, and if he was a good man, I will see him in heaven. I will never find a man to replace the man that I loved for many years. That was real love. I give my life now to my son and my family.”
What are you most proud of?
“I think it’s part of being a Capricorn — I am never satisfied with what I have accomplished. My career today is great, but I am always thinking about tomorrow. My greatest accomplishment in my life is my son, my sister’s happiness, and my family. Now, I would like my son to meet somebody, and I will teach their baby cuchi-cuchi. I would like to be a fun grandma. That 2-year-old is going to be dancing cuchi-cuchi with me.”
What is next for you?
“During COVID, a lot of my engagements were canceled. I was lucky to start my brand-new show at the Mohegan Sun in March after two years. I will do concerts in Miami and North Carolina in October. We are looking at dates for a larger tour in 2023.”
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.