Ortega was born to a very poor family, and he had to work from a very young age, selling newspapers and finding a job at a store. But his real passion was music, as he had been dreaming of becoming a singer since he was a small boy. As a teenager, Ortega was a big admirer of Elvis Presley.
In 1956, Ortega moved to Buenos Aires, where he wound up selling coffee on the city's parks, corners and streets. He used his work as a coffee seller to get into show business: eventually, he set up a coffee selling spot near Buenos Aires' television channel seven. This worked well for Ortega, as many entertainers would stop by to buy coffee from his stand, and he got to personally know some of the best known Argentine musicians of the era. Ortega also worked near a radio station named "Belgrano", where many of the singers he met while selling coffee near the television station would recognize him and form a bond with the young star in the making.
A period of wild success across South America followed for the band, with Ortega being one of their most popular members. Ortega enjoyed fame so much that he left the group to follow a solo career, confident that the recognition the group had given him would guarantee him solid success as a solo artist.
His first solo album, "La Edad del Amor" ("The Age of Love"), was recorded under the artistic name of Nery Nelson. This album, as well as the next one ("Yo no Quiero", translated to "I don't Want To") was not a hit. Both albums were recorded in Mendoza with a low budget and no recording company to back them up. Ortega also used the artistic nickname of Tony Varano for some of his live shows at the time, and he became a member of "The Lyons" when the Argentine rock legend, lead singer Peter Rock, left the band. His interests, however, remained in being a successful solo singer, and he left "The Lyons" within months of joining that band.
Ortega met songwriter Dino Ramos in 1962; this would prove important in Ortega's career as Ramos would write a large number of Ortega's hits. By 1963, in the midst of Argentina's own "new wave" (La nueva ola) movement (such movements were taking place in many countries, such as England, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States, among other countries), Ortega began to become a television regular, as he was featured multiple times on a popular Canal 11 show of the time, "Club del Clan" ("Clan's Club"). It shall be pointed out that the word clan in Spanish has nothing to do with racist groups; "clan" has the same meaning as "group" in Spanish.
Also in 1963, Ortega signed with RCA, where he began recording immediately.
His television appearances led to a career in cinema. Ortega made multiple films in Argentina at the time, becoming a teen idol as a consequence. He acted and sang in those films, and he shared the big screen with many of Argentina's most important actors and actresses of the time.
Palito Ortega would travel extensively through the rest of the 1960s and the 1970s. He went on to make albums in Mexico, Italy, England and even in Nashville. All of these recordings were done for RCA.
As the years passed, Ortega logically lost his status as a teen idol, and he slowed down his television and movie appearances, as well as his album recordings. He did, however, become a successful music promoter, and in 1981, he produced a show for Frank Sinatra in Argentina.
Ortega took into consideration the state of the economy in Argentina as well as the military dictatorship of the time before moving with his wife and six children to Miami, which by the middle 1980s was becoming a mecca for Latino entertainers. Ortega joined the likes of Iris Chacon, Charytin, Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias and others as a resident of the south Florida city. In 1986, Ortega sang the United States national anthem before the world middleweight championship boxing fight between Marvin Hagler and John Mugabi.
Ortega retired from show business for a while after that, focusing on his career as a businessman and eyeing a career as a politician instead. He witnessed as two of his children (son Emanuel and daughter Julieta) dedicated themselves to follow in their father's footsteps as entertainers, and, with Emanuel moving to Mexico, Ortega decided to return to Argentina. Ortega became governor of Tucumán, and, in 1999, he ran for his country's vice-presidency, but his party lost the general elections that year.
In 2002, Ortega began to tour as a singer again. In 2004, his son, Emanuel, began to enjoy mild success as an actor and singer in Mexico.