María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza Rasten (born March 13, 1951, though other sources state 1941), better known as Charo, is a Spanish and American singer, dancer, comedian, actress and classical guitarist. She is known for her flamboyant stage presence, provocative outfits, and her trademark phrase ("cuchi-cuchi").
The performer has said in past interviews that her parents allowed her to falsify her age to appear to be older after marrying 66-year-old band leader Xavier Cugat when she was 15. Further complicating the question is the fact that contemporary press reports gave her age at marriage as 21, an April 1966 column on the wedding plans stated she was 20 and Cugat was 60, and columns less than two years before the marriage refer to her as Cugat's "18-year-old protegée"—which, if she was falsifying her age, would have made her actually 13 at the time.
In October 1977, — the same year in which Charo filed for divorce from Cugat and became an American citizen — a United States court upheld the 1951 birth year as official, with the performer providing a sworn statement from her parents in support of her claim. Commenting on the disputes over her age, she has said that the public's disbelief could prove advantageous: "But 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."
When Charo was quite young, she was "discovered" by famous bandleader Xavier Cugat, whom she later wed on August 7, 1966. Cugat was 66 and had married four times before then, though contemporary reports sometimes listed fewer marriages; an April 1966 column by Earl Wilson on the couple's wedding plans announced, "Sixty-year-old Xavier Cugat and his 20-year-old Spanish girl friend and singing star Charo hope to get married in San Cugat, Spain, in a few days -- if Cugat can convince church authorities his two divorces should not be counted against him since he wasn't married in church." The couple were the first to have their nuptials in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
In a February 2005 interview with the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, Charo claimed that her marriage to Cugat had been merely a "business contract," a way for him to legally bring her over to the United States, where he was based. She moved to 257th street in The Bronx, New York City along with her mother and aunt, and was regularly featured in shows with Cugat's orchestra in New York and Las Vegas, as well as in overseas engagements in Latin America and Europe. She claims he was confident in her eventual success from early on, and that she gave him a Rolls-Royce as a parting gift once she came of legal age.
Throughout the 1970s, she was a highly visible personality, appearing 8 times on The Love Boat, as well as on variety and talk shows such as Donny & Marie, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Captain and Tennille, The John Davidson Show, The Mike Douglas Show, which she guest-hosted at least once, and even the infamously short-lived Brady Bunch variety spinoff.
In 1975, Dallas Morning News critic Harry Bowman wrote that the Nickelodeod "penciled in ... a half-hour comedy starring the uninhibited wife of Xavier Cugat" and commented, "This is probably the worst idea of the season." By October of that year, the performer was promoting a special slated for November, but the special did not actually appear until May, 1976. A TV listing for August 24, 1976, shows what appears to be an unsold pilot airing on ABC at 8:30 pm CST: "Charo and the Sergeant - Situation comedy starring Charo Cugat. Charo's first U.S. job is to be a dancer at an off-limits night club, and her conservative Marine Corps husband finds out."
By the late 1970s, Charo was being mentioned as an example of how overexposure could damage a celebrity; one such article quoted Steve Levitt's "Q score" research to show the performer's popularity declined slightly even as her familiarity increased:
Before she gained national fame on talk shows in 1975, bosomy Latin starlet Charo was 'recognized' by 57 per cent of Levitt's national television sample - and had a 'popularity quotient' of 9 per cent. Today, known by 80 per cent, a figure as high as Clint Eastwood's 80 per cent, Charo's popularity is 8 per cent. 'If she was known by 100 per cent of the world, chances are her popularity might go down to 7 or 6 per cent,' Levitt says coolly. That paradox makes some performers think twice when invitations to talk shows come in.|30 px|quoted in|"The TV Talk Shows," Washington Post, July 14, 1977 (Style, B1)
She now has a regular touring show in addition to appearances in Branson, Missouri, and Las Vegas (which at one time were choreographed by Comedy Central actor/dancer Jade Esteban Estrada). She also donates her talents to Jerry Lewis's annual MDA telethon.
Charo appeared as the Celebrity Showtime entertainer aboard Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas on its January 4 & January 13, 2008 sailings, and on the Adventure of the Seas on its August 10, 2008 sailing. She will be a Celebrity Grand Marshal of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, 2008. She will be accompanied by hordes of Charo look-alikes on a pink float. On May 23, 2008. She was a guest on GSN Live.
Charo also returned to the Dance music scene in June 2008 with the single "Espana Cani." The single was released through Universal Wave Records.
Her first four albums were made with the Salsoul Orchestra.