Gustavo Cerati, Argentinian Rock Icon, Dies of Respiratory Failure

Strings electric guitar closeup in black tones
Gustavo Cerati, the Argentinian singer-songwriter who led the influential Latin American rock group Soda Stereo, died on Thursday, September 4, four years after a stroke caused him to fall into a coma. He was 55 years old. His doctors have stated that his death was ultimately caused by respiratory failure.A funeral held the next day in Buenos Aires drew thousands, who gathered to pay their final respects to the Spanish-language rock icon. His hearse traveled through several important streets in the city before arriving at Chacarita, otherwise known as the resting place of tango composer Carlos Gardel and folk music singer Mercedes Sosa. Cerati’s mother, Lilian Cerati, and his two sons, Benito and Lisa, followed the hearse, waving to the crowds.

Cerati was born on August 11, 1959 into a middle-class family in Buenos Aires. Growing up under the rule of Argentina’s military dictatorship, he often took refuge in pop music, including emerging punk and New Wave bands like the Cure and the Police. After performing in several bands throughout his youth, Cerati went on to form Soda Stereo with drummer Charly Alberti and bassist Héctor “Zeta” Bossio in 1982, just as the dictatorship was beginning to crumble. Their self-titled first album was released in 1984 and rose in popularity amid an explosion of energy and self-expression that culminated with the return of democracy.

While the band initially performed in underground clubs, they quickly began touring other Latin and Mesoamerican countries, especially Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. Soda Stereo became particularly popular in Chile, where they came to represent the cultural opposition to dictator Augusto Pinochet. While not the first or the only Latin American rock band, Soda Stereo was one of the most influential groups of the “Rock en Espanol” movement. By the time Soda Stereo dissolved in 1997, they had released seven major-label CDs, earned gold or platinum records in more than 20 countries, and often drew crowds of more than 100,000 people when they performed in Argentina.

After Soda Stereo disbanded, the vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist also went on to have a successful solo career: his final record, “Natural Force,” released in 1999, won three Grammy awards, including Best Rock Album. Over the course of his career, Cerati won a total of six Grammy awards, including three for his songwriting and production ventures. He most notably worked with Shakira on three of her albums, and is listed on each as a co-producer.

In between his work on these projects, as well as ventures into electronica and a reunion tour with Soda Stereo in 2007, Cerati also became famous for his flings with beautiful, famous women. He married and eventually divorced Argentinian fashion designer Belén Edwards. Following their separation, Cerati married Cecilia Amenábar, a Chilean model, actress and disc jockey, with whom he had his two sons. However, the couple also divorced, and at the time of his death, Cerati was dating another model, Chloe Bello. It seems that Cerati represented his country’s culture even in this respect: studies show that as many as 50% of modern marriages end in divorce.

Unsurprisingly, Cerati’s death has resulted in grief and affection from fans, musicians and public figures. Shakira, who dedicated the title song of her album “Sale el Sol” to Cerati after his coma, took to Facebook to announce “Gustavo, our most important song of all has yet to be written.” Likewise, Pope Francis, a fellow Argentinian, reportedly sent his condolences to Cerati’s family early Friday.

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