Charo was a familiar face for many people growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. She was and continues to be today an enigmatic character. Charo is never in any long-term roles, she pops up in every popular TV show of the era at one. Even today, she gets roles and cameos in movies as diverse as Sharknado 5. She plays The Queen—and 1994’s Thumbelina—in which she provides the voice for Mrs. Toad.
Charo starts performing at a very young age in Spain, and she considers a guitar prodigy in her teens. She could also dance, sing, and act—a true all-rounder when it came to the stage or screen. Charo marries her first husband, the famous Spanish bandleader Xavier Cugat, in 1966. She is somewhat a teenager and a young adult (watch the video for more on that scandal), and he’s the ripe old age of 66.
Whatever you know about her, it’s almost sure you’ll recognize her by her popular 60s and 70s catchphrase, “cuchi-cuchi!” In this video, we dig deep into the archives of everything Charo. It reveals tidbits about on and off-stage antics and all the fun fan facts you want to know. If you’re a Cuchi-Cuchi Girl devotee or just curious to learn more about this iconic performer, watch on!
Charo Joined a Convent As a Toddler
Charo is born in Murcia, Spain, and decides regal and lengthy name of Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza. How she later ended up with the short and sweet nickname Charo is anybody’s guess. She is a child when her parents enroll her in a convent boarding school, hoping to get a pious education. Charo says it is one of the nuns who notices her talent for performance. She encourages her to train for a career in show business. She starts playing guitar at the tender age of nine. Taking lessons from one of the masters of classical Spanish guitar, the virtuoso Andres Segovia.
She Married a 66-Year-Old Man When She Was (Maybe) a Teen
Charo was either 15 or 25 when she married her 66-year-old first husband, depending on the sources, who you talk to, and myriad other things. Whatever the age, it was clear that she was several decades his junior. Spanish-born Xavier Cugat was a well-renowned musician and bandleader working in America—he spent his younger years in Cuba. He later emigrated to the US, becoming a restaurant owner and popular performer in Hollywood. The marriage lasted just over a decade. Charo later said she only married Cugat to get into the United States.
Her Birth Year is Mired in Controversy
So why is there such a mystery surrounding Charo’s birth year? According to her original birth certificate and American naturalization documents, she was born in 1941, though she always claimed to be at most ten years younger than that. When she first arrived in the US, she would say she was born in 1947 or 1949.
Once, at a court hearing, Charo said those details were incorrect, and she was actually born in 1951. The story she gave for all the confusion was that her parents faked her birth documents to marry Xavier Cugat at such a young age. However, there’s also evidence that Charo graduated from high school at 16 years of age, and some early sources name her as Cugat’s “18-year-old protégée.” So what’s the truth? It seems like we’ll never know. As Charo, herself says, “if people really believe I’m older, that’s fine. Don’t be surprised if I come out with my own cosmetics, a new energy bar, and maybe some vitamins.”
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She First Became Famous on The Ed Sullivan Show
While Charo’s first-ever American TV appearance was on The Today Show, she’s actually most famous for starring in four episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show alongside her husband, Xavier Cugat, and his orchestra—between 1965 and 1967. Later, she appeared in a few Laugh-In skits, where she used her lack of English fluency and bubbly, enthusiastic persona to expert comedic advantage. Other popular TV shows at the time picked up on her ability to captivate an audience’s attention and brought her on as a guest or included her in skits. Charo appeared dozens of times as herself and other Charo-like characters on shows by Joey Bishop, Dina Shore, Carol Burnett, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson,first-ever, on Hollywood Squares; and in comedy specials hosted by the likes of Bob Hope and Dean Martin.
She Was Mostly Type-Cast in “Charo” Type Roles
Charo really wanted to be an actress, and it was a source of frustration for her that American audiences seemed to enjoy her only for her Charo-esque qualities. She either played herself in cameos or was type-casted into characters that were exactly like here, even if they had other names. For example, on Chico and The Man, Charo played a character called Aunt Charo, but on The Love Boat (where many watchers will remember her best from), she played a recurring character named April Lopez. She played three almost identical and extremely Charo-like characters on Fantasy Island called Yolanda Morales, Maria Diaz, and Dolores DeMercia. And once she’d invented that never-forgotten catchphrase, “cuchi-cuchi,” the cult of the Cuchi-Cuchi Girl was seemingly impossible to escape.
Her Fame Exploded With the “Cuchi-Cuchi” Catchphrase
When Charo first arrived in America from Spain, she had limited English. Despite this, she kept landing roles on TV. To compensate for her lack of speaking ability, she invented a unique way of greeting people: she would shimmy her body while saying the now-timeless catchphrase “cuchi-cuchi.” Audiences loved this vibrant expression and quickly dubbed Charo the Cuchi-Cuchi Girl. But where did this weird expression even come from? Well, in conversational Spanish, it has humorously sexual overtones. But Charo says she invented the phrase to honor her beloved family dog Cuchillo, which means “knife” in Spanish. This cute pooch got the nickname Cuchi Cuchi because of the peculiar way he shimmied from one side to the other as he walked.
The Late 70s Were a Weird Time for Charo
In the late 70s, Charo’s mental health started to take a dive. She was headlining Vegas shows and getting paid bucket loads—some reports say as much as stars like Dean Martin, Ray Charles, and even Frank Sinatra. She was made a citizen of the US in 1977 and divorced her first husband, Xavier Cugat, in 1978. It seemed like she was everywhere! However, the public had had enough of her, and her popularity took a plunge. But Charo wasn’t phased. She took a break from the limelight and dove back into her first love: Spanish guitar.
Charo Is Considered the World’s Best Flamenco Guitar Player
In fact, to this day, Charo is considered one of the most accomplished flamenco guitarists in the world. In 1994, her flamenco guitar album “Guitar Passion” went platinum and snagged her the Best Female Album of the Year at the Latin Grammys. She’s also been named Best Flamenco Guitarist in a reader’s poll by Guitar Player magazine two years in a row. Despite her on-stage persona as a ditsy blonde, there’s no denying she’s a highly talented musician.
Charo Can Speak Japanese
Aside from being able to speak Spanish and English, two of the world’s most commonly spoken languages, Charo can also turn out some decent Japanese when needed. The performer is very dedicated to her family. When her son was young, she and her second husband, businessman Kjell Rasten, moved to Hawaii to raise him in a more natural environment. Because there were so many Japanese speakers there, Charo decided to learn the language, too. In the 1980s, she also built an enormous family compound in Beverly Hills, where she lived with at least 14 members of her family. Everyone had their own living areas and communicated via a property-wide intercom system.
Charo’s Second Husband Committed Suicide
Tragically, Charo’s second husband, Kjell Rasten, committed suicide in 2019 at 78. According to Charo, he suffered from a rare, incurable, and tortuous skin condition called bullous pemphigoid. The autoimmune disorder causes the skin to break out in thousands of painful blisters. As Rasten’s health declined, he had to take an unending regimen of medications to control his illness. As the pain became intolerable, his depression worsened, leading him to eventually take his own life.
Despite It All, Charo Never Seems to Quit
Despite all the hardships Charo has endured over her long life, this at minimum 70-year-old is still as active as ever. She appeared on Dancing With the Stars numerous times in the 2010s and has held cameos and other roles in recent movies like Sharknado 5, Thumbelina, and most recently, 2021’s The Bitch Who Stole Christmas. Charo is beloved by audiences worldwide—not only as the Cuchi-Cuchi Girl of the 1970s but also for her incredible talent as a classical guitarist and versatility as a bubbly, vibrant stage, TV, and film performer. Her quirky charm, it seems, is timeless. As Charo once said: “My goal is to try new things, to make people forget their problems, make them laugh, and for them to talk about it the next day.”
Charo’s still somewhat of an unknown celebrity despite everything she’s done in Hollywood. Do you think she deserves to be better recognized for her contributions to the silver screen and the world of music? Or do you think the Cuchi-Cuchi Girl was overrated, even at the height of her fame in the 1960s and 1970s? If you want to watch more videos like this one, tap the subscribe button. Hit that notification bell while you’re there. Oh, and don’t forget to give this video a thumbs up and share it with your friends and family.