Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 6:45 AM
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentine singer Sandro, whose gyrating pelvis and romantic ballads brought comparisons to Elvis Presley and made him the first Latin American to sing in Madison Square Garden, died Monday of complications from heart and lung transplant surgery. He was 64.
Sandro, who recorded 52 albums, acted in 16 movies and was awarded a Latin Grammy for career achievement in 2005, suffered from chronic lung disease that led to the Nov. 20 surgery. He died at the Italian Hospital in the Argentine city of Mendoza, said Dr. Claudio Burgos.
Born Roberto Sanchez in 1945 in Buenos Aires, he was the author of hits such as "Asi" ("Like That") and "Dame Fuego" ("Give Me Fire"), and his rock and pop tunes won him fame across Latin America. In the 1970s he became the first Latin American singer to play New York's Madison Square Garden.
Last year, in one of his final interviews, the singer blamed his smoking habit for his long illness.
"I am debilitated because I cannot move. My life is my bed, my spot in the dining room where I read the newspaper, and from there I do not move," Sandro told Mitre radio of Buenos Aires. "I am to blame for the condition that I am in. I deserve it; I sought it out. I picked up this damn cigarette."
As a youth, Roberto Sanchez began playing guitar along with Enrique Irigoytia, another boy from his neighborhood. The two formed several rock bands that sang Spanish versions of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Paul Anka hits.
But it wasn't until he was lead guitarist for the band Los de Fuego that his fame took off.
During one performance, the lead singer lost his voice and another performer broke his guitar strings. Sanchez relinquished his guitar, took over singing duties and threw himself into dancing to the rock rhythm. The crowd went wild.
Sanchez became the group's front man and adopted the moniker Sandro - a name his mother had wanted to give him at birth, but the Civil Registry refused.
Sandro y Los de Fuego made their TV debut in 1964 on "Circular Saturdays," one of the nation's most popular shows.
Sandro's sensual, irreverent style, gyrating hips and black leather jacket sent young female fans into a frenzy; his "babes," as they were known, would scream wildly, pull their hair and throw their undergarments onstage.
He soon earned the reputation as Argentina's Elvis Presley.
The band recorded two albums before Sandro went solo, turning to a more melodic repertoire and entering the "romantic" genre with classics such as "Quiero Llenarme de Ti" ("I Want to Fill Myself With You"). In 1969, he made his silver screen debut in a movie with the same title.
A later film, "La Vida Continua" ("Life Goes On"), was a hit not only in Argentina but in much of Latin America.
In 1982, Sandro signed with a Puerto Rican TV channel to star in the telenovela "Fue sin querer" ("I Didn't Mean to Do It"), which was popular among U.S. Latinos.
By 2001, he was forced to play a series of shows with the assistance of a tube attached to a microphone, to combat the effects of pulmonary emphysema.
Last year he went on a waiting list for a lung and heart transplant, which doctors said was the only way to save him from a disease that had already destroyed his vocal cords and restricted his movements.
He is survived by his wife, Olga Garaventa, whom he married in 2007. He had no children.