Sara Montiel Dies: Sultry Spanish Film Legend Was 85

Spanish singer and actress Sara Montiel died Monday at the age of 85.

Montiel was famous for her sultry voice and legacy of achievement as the first Spanish actress to become a Hollywood star. According to Peter Villora, her biographer, Montiel died at her home in Madrid after passing out.

“She was both an actress and singer, but mainly an actress, fulfilling the dream of her life,” Villora said.

Born Maria Antonia Abad in Campo de Criptana (in the central region of La Mancha), Montiel was notable for her stunning beauty and velvety singing voice. Her career saw starring roles in over 50 films, many of them musicals. She was also famous for smoking Havana cigars during live performances, something done mostly by men at the time.

She said that American author Ernest Hemingway taught her to smoke. She was also rumored to have had a turbulent affair with him, as well as with actor James Dean. She also married American actor and director Anthony Mann in 1957.

Montiel enjoyed modest success in Spain, but her career took off internationally in the 1940s, first in Mexico and then to Hollywood. One of her most notable early roles was alongside actors Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster in the 1955 western Vera Cruz. Her second U.S. film was Serenade, a musical with Mario Lanza, Joan Fontaine, and Vincent Price.

“She was the Spanish star with the greatest international impact until the arrival of Javier (Bardem) and Penelope (Cruz),” said Spanish actor Jose Sacristan.

Montiel gave up her film career in the mid 1970s to focus on live musicals on stage and television. She is survived by daughter Thais and son Zeus.

Here’s a video tribute to Sara Montiel: