Arguably one of the most popular singers around the globe for over four decades, Spanish-born crooner Julio Iglesias sold over 300 million records worldwide on the strength of his romantic ballads in a half-dozen languages. Cynics initially dismissed Iglesias as a musical Lothario who relied as much on his good looks as his voice, but audiences around the globe hung on each new song, which he began recording in 1968. By the mid-1970s, Iglesias had established himself as a force on the European and South American pop scenes, as well as a fearless interpreter of established American hit songs. The U.S. market remained out of his reach until 1983, when a compilation of his best work was sold via television commercial; it was quickly trumped by the runaway success of 1100 Bel Air Place (1984), which featured his most unlikely hit, a duet with Willie Nelson on "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." Iglesias' grip on the American pop market weakened at the end of the 1980s, but he remained a remarkably popular performer around the globe, as well as a dominant figure on the Latin pop charts in the United States, even more so than his sons Enrique and Julio, Jr., both of whom followed in their father's footsteps. Julio Iglesias' vast album sales and sprawling body of work made him a legendary figure in the history of Latin music.
Born Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva in Madrid, Spain on Sept. 23, 1943, he was the son of noted gynecologist Julio Iglesias Puga, who was also known as Julio Iglesias, Sr., and his wife, Maria del Rosario de la Cueva y Perignat. His path to musical stardom was a long and complicated one. The law and sports were his first passions, eventually leading to the study of the former in Madrid during the 1960s while serving as a goalkeeper for the Real Madrid football club. A horrific car accident in 1963 left him with a spinal cord injury that ended his athletic career, but also introduced him to music via physical therapy. To rebuild his manual dexterity, Iglesias began playing guitar, which in turn led to writing original songs. When he was fully recovered, he completed his education by studying the English language at Bell Educational Trust's Language School in Cambridge, England.
Iglesias' music career was launched in 1968 with a win at the Benidorm International Song Festival, a songwriter's event in Spain. His winning original composition, "La vida sigue igual (Life Continues Just the Same)," later served as the theme, title and inspiration for a 1969 feature based on his accident and subsequent recovery. He was soon signed to Discos Columbia, the Spanish-language branch of Columbia Records, which released his debut album, Yo Canto (I Sing), in 1969. The record peaked at No. 3 on the Spanish album charts, generating four hit singles. The following year, Iglesias represented Spain at the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, where he placed fourth with the single "Gwendolyne." The song was subsequently released that same year as the title track from his third album, and quickly reached the top of the Spanish pop charts.
In 1971, Iglesias married Spanish-Filipino journalist Isabel Preysler, with whom he had three children, all of whom would follow him into careers in the media: journalist Chabeli Iglesias and singers Julio Iglesias, Jr., and Enrique Iglesias. That same year, he released "Un canto a Galica (A Song of Galica)," a musical tribute to his father's roots, which reached No. 1 in several European countries and established him as an international star. Iglesias signed with CBS International for 1974's A Flor de Piel, which spawned one of his biggest global hits, "Por el Amor de una Mujer (For the Love of a Woman)." Spanish-language covers of Don McLean's "If I Love You So," George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and "Love's Theme" by Barry White - the latter two from 1975's El Amor - also established his reputation as an adventurous interpreter of other artists' songs. A string of albums recorded in French, Italian, German and Portuguese between 1977 and 1979 solidified his popularity in many international markets - save for the English-speaking world, which he had yet to conquer.
In 1979, Iglesias began his campaign to conquer America. Following the annulment of his marriage to Preysler in 1979, he moved to Miami, FL, where he began adding English-language material to his studio releases. He established a beachhead in the U.K., where his Spanish-language take on the standard "Begin the Beguine" became an unexpected No. 1 hit on the singles chart. To capitalize on this success, CBS quickly released a best-of compilation called Julio (1983), which featured a cross-section of English- and foreign-language hits marketed directly to American audiences through a television campaign. The gambit worked: Julio shot to No. 5 on the U.S. album chart, paving the way for his biggest venture in the United States.
Iglesias' 1984 album 1100 Bel Air Place marked the true beginning of his stardom in America. Named for the address of his Los Angeles home, the album featured a collection of extremely polished duets with such established American singers as the Beach Boys, Diana Ross and Willie Nelson - the latter of whom dueted with Iglesias on "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." The single reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the top of the country charts, among numerous other accolades. Iglesias soon became a ubiquitous presence on the American pop music scene, charming audiences - particularly of the female persuasion - with his courtly manner and deeply tanned presence both in concert and on television. Though subsequent albums sold well and reaped their share of rewards - 1988's Un Hombre Solo (A Man Alone took home the Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album - hit songs on the scale of "To All the Girls," however, were not forthcoming. His last U.S. chart entry came in 1988 with "My Love," a duet with Stevie Wonder.
By the 1990s, Iglesias' influence in the American pop market had run its course, so he returned to recording for international audiences. The results preserved his status as one of the world's most popular recording stars, netting gold and platinum sales status in Canada, the Netherlands, South America and the U.K. The late-1990s rise of Latin music as a force in America proved beneficial to Iglesias as well; his 1996 album Tango topped the Billboard Latin chart that year, selling some six million albums and reaping a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop album, as well as a World Music Award. The latter win was especially sweet, as he faced strong competition from younger artists, such as his own son, Enrique Iglesias. Iglesias continued to hold the world Latin market in the palm of his hand at the dawn of the new millennium. As he entered his sixth decade, he saw repeated ascents to the Top 5 on the international Latin and Latin Pop charts, with 2003's Divorcio (Divorce) setting a record for most albums sold (350,000) in a single day in Spain. Three years later, his Romantic Classics was his largest-selling international record to date, with Top 10 placement in half a dozen European countries. In 2010, he celebrated his 40th anniversary in show business with the announcement that he had sold over 300 million albums worldwide - a feat few performers could claim.
By Paul Gaita