Obituary: Dominguin

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The Independent Online
Luis Miguel Gonzalez Lucas, "Dominguin", inspired a book by Hemingway, joked with both Franco and Picasso and had affairs with a string of Hollywood film goddesses including Ava Gardner. Regarded as one of the best bullfighters ever, he was the son of a bullfighter and entered the ring alongside his brothers, who also became bullfighters, at the age of 10.

He went on to become a fully-fledged matador at the age of 17, and attained stardom by eclipsing the great Manolete in the 1944 season, and assuming his mantle when the older man died in 1947 after being savagely gored. During his heyday in the 1950s Dominguin became a superstar at home, and a jewel of the international jetset.

His name was linked to Brigitte Bardot, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Yvonne de Carlo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lauren Bacall, and especially Ava Gardner. Legend has it that when he left Ms Gardner's bed with ungentlemanly haste, she called after him: "Where are you going? His apochryphal reply: "To tell everybody", but their liaison lasted from 1953 to 1956.

Later in life he was to downplay his reputation as a Don Juan: "I have just quietly gone along with my life, but the women just besieged me." He told one interviewer that he never slept with a woman during the 10-month bullfighting season, so as not to disturb his concentration and his reflexes. "What about the other two months?" the interviewer asked. "I didn't even stop to eat."

Ernest Hemingway followed the fortunes of Dominguin throughout the summer of 1959, and especially his intense rivalry with the other great bullfighter of the day, his brother-in-law Antonio Ordonez. Upon hearing the news of Dominguin's death yesterday, Ordonez hurried to his old rival's home to pay his respects.

Hemingway wrote up the experience of that summer in a series of reports for Life magazine; they asked for 10,000 words and ended up publishing 70,000. After Hemingway's death in 1961 the reportage was cut back to 45,000 words and published in 1985 as a book entitled The Dangerous Summer.

Hemingway, fascinated by the idea of a man risking death in the ring, said that Dominguin "could do anything with a bull". As if to bear out those words, Dominguin once travelled to Mozambique to fight wild buffalo, to the horror of the organiser of his safari tour.

Grainy black-and-white footage played on Spanish television yesterday confirmed Hemingway's description of him as "dark, tall, narrow-hipped, with his neck a little too long for a bullfighter". The images showed him cheekily patting a passing bull on the backside as he twisted elegantly within millimetres of the deadly horns.

Dominguin was very friendly with Franco, with whom he often went hunting. "I used to tell him the jokes people told about him, and that amused him a lot," the bullfighter reminisced. He once turned to his advantage an awkward moment when, at the end of a hunt, one of the dictatorship's strongmen, who had tried to link the bullfighter to the outlawed Communist party, asked him, in front of Franco, which of the three brothers was the Communist. Dominguin answered "All three!" to roars of laughter from the Generalismo.

Notorious for his arrogance, Dominguin frequently took part in cafe discussion circles with prominent intellectuals of his day, without being bothered for one moment by the fact that he never read their works. "My thing is bulls," he insisted.

He was criticised throughout his scandal-ridden life for the excesses of his personality, but the controversial bullfighting star of a later generation, Manuel Benitez "El Cordobes", said of him yesterday: "He had a lot of authority. And someone who radiated such glory and provided many good bullfighting afternoons leaves his mark. He'll always be remembered."

He married the Italian filmstar Lucia Bose in Las Vegas in 1954, and in a Spanish church ceremony the following year. They had three children, with Pablo Picasso and Luchino Visconti as godparents. Their son, Miguel Bose, became a leading actor and singer.

Dominguin was seriously gored at least 15 times, and withdrew from the ring in 1960. He made a brief comeback in 1971 and his last bullfight was in Barcelona in 1973.

He won the right to change his surname for the nickname by which he became famous through royal decree in 1990. He insisted that he never retired, he "just stopped bullfighting indefinitely".

Luis Miguel Gonzalez Lucas, "Dominguin", bullfighter: born Madrid 9 December 1926; married 1954 Lucia Bosie (one son, two daughters, marriage dissolved), 1987 Rosario Prime de Rivera; died Sotogrande 8 May 1996.