Juan Belmonte

Juan Belmonte

Belmonte, Juan, 1892-1962, Spanish matador, b. Seville. He is generally considered the greatest matador of all time, as remarkable for the poetry of his motion in the bullring as for his speed and dexterity. He is said to have "invented" modern bullfighting with his daring, revolutionary style, which kept him almost constantly within a few inches of the bull. Between 1913 and 1936, when he finally retired (he had retired twice before, in 1922 and 1934), he was gored and slashed innumerable times. In 1919 he fought 109 corridas, a record number. His years of rivalry (1914-20) with the great Joselito, known as the Golden Age of Bullfighting, ended with Joselito's fatal goring.

See his autobiography (as told to Manuel Chaves Nogales; tr. 1937).

Juan Belmonte García (April 14, 1892-April 8, 1962) was an Spanish bullfighter, considered by many the greatest matador of all times.

Born in the Triana area of Seville, Belmonte began his bullfighting career in 1908, touring around Spain in a children's bullfighting group called Los Niños Sevillanos. He killed his first bull on July 24, 1910. As an adult, his technique was unlike that of previous matadors; he stood erect and nearly motionless, and always stayed within inches of the bull, unlike previous matadors, who stayed far from the animal to avoid the horns. As a result of this daring technique, Belmonte was frequently gored, sustaining many serious wounds.

Belmonte's rivalry with Joselito (a.k.a. Gallito), another contender for the appellation "greatest matador of all time", from 1914 to 1920 is known as the Golden Age of Bullfighting. The era was tragically cut short when Joselito was fatally gored on May 16, 1920, at a bullfight in Talavera de la Reina, a small town not far from Madrid. Belmonte then had to carry alone the weight of the whole bullfighting establishment, which was to prove too much and led to the first of his two temporary retirements.

In 1919, Belmonte fought 109 corridas, a number not matched by any matador before, until the 1965 bullfight season when Manuel Benítez Pérez ("El Cordobés") performed in 111 corridas, surpassing Belmonte's record. The Mexican matador Carlos Arruza fought 108 corridas in one season but it is said that he refused to pass Belmonte's record out of respect for the maestro.

After his retirement, Belmonte published an autobiography. Written by Manuel Chaves Nogales and published in 1937, it was called Juan Belmonte, matador de toros: su vida y sus hazañas and was translated into English by Leslie Charteris as Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls. Belmonte was also close friend with author Ernest Hemingway, and he appears prominently in two of Hemingway's novels: Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also Rises. Like Hemingway, Belmonte ultimately committed suicide by gunshot.

Juan Belmonte was the single matador that changed the style of bullfighting. Born with slightly deformed legs he could not run like other boys, or jump as they could and so when he finally began his career as a matador, he firmly planted his feet on the ground never giving way. He forced the bull to go around him, whereas others until then had jumped all over the place like circus performers.

When his doctor told him that, because of his lifelong injuries and trauma, he could no longer smoke cigars, ride his horses, drink wine or perform sexual acts with women, he decided he was ready to die. He ordered his favorite horse brought to him, took a handful of cigars, two bottles of his favorite wine and rode out to his finca where he was met by two of Sevilla's "women of the night". He smoked and drank his wine, engaging one more time in his final passions, then took his pistol and shot himself. He had told others prior to his last day that if he could not live like a man he would at least die like one.

A movie about his life, titled Belmonte and directed by Juan Sebastián Bollaín, was released in 1995.

He is interred at the cemetery of Seville. His wish was to be buried with the robe of his Holy Week fraternity, El Cachorro. Catholic rules prescribed against this, regardless of deep religious fervor of his and followers. His death provoked a strong sadness in the city of Seville.

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