Manitas de Plata, 93; flamenco guitarist

Mr. de Plata performed at the Don Camillo in Paris in 1983.
Mr. de Plata performed at the Don Camillo in Paris in 1983.(DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — Flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata, who sold nearly 100 million records worldwide and broke boundaries for Gypsy musicians, died Wednesday in a Montpellier retirement home in southern France. He was 93.

Despite acquiring a fortune as one of France’s best-selling recording artists, he died practically penniless — spending his fortune on ‘‘roulette, fancy cars, going out, and beautiful women,’’ according to his great nephew, Ricao Bissiere.

‘‘He loved life. He was a character,’’ Bissiere said, adding that he was “a beautiful man who opened the doors for Gypsy music.’’

Born Ricardo Baliardo in a caravan in southern France in 1921 to a French Gypsy family, Mr. de Plata mastered the guitar at age 9, without being able to read music.


He went on to wow crowds with his flamenco strumming in French Riviera cafes, watched by artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, writer Jean Cocteau, and actress Brigitte Bardot.

Picasso once exclaimed ‘‘that man is of greater worth than I am!’’ when he heard him at Arles in 1964 and drew on his guitar.

As his talent became clear, he changed to his recording name, Manitas de Plata, meaning ‘‘little hands of silver’’ in Spanish.

He was a legendary ladies’ man and Mr. de Plata once admitted he did not know how many children he had fathered in his life, thought to be more than 20.

The guitarist was a strong influence on the Gipsy Kings and strengthened his reputation in the United States after playing New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1965.