Obituary: Dominguin

Others have written about the public part of Luis Miguel Dominguin's fame - as a rich and celebrated torero, married to a star, friend of the famous and the powerful, from Picasso to Franco; pick a cliche and you could hardly go wrong, writes Keith Botsford [further to the obituary by Liz Nash, 9 May].

That life, part "creation", part publicity, part pure fantasy, existed; it was also only a small part of the man. I knew him, I think, rather better than most; he was my fourth son's godfather and I wrote a book about him, 24 years ago now. That is, he and I sat in the Hotel Suecia in Madrid, and at his finca in Andalucia, for some weeks, and he talked and I listened.

I had never met an athlete then, nor one since, who could come close to his innate intelligence. In that sense, the fact that he was a bullfighter was an anomaly, for he could have been anything. But a very fine bullfighter he was: precisely because he was intelligent, and innocent and passionate, and respectful of his adversary who was an animal, in the same way that Luis Miguel could be, a creature of instinct with a deep desire to survive.

He was certainly the best tor-ero I saw in the ring in some 40 years. It was like watching a seduction, a deadly flirtation; the risk appalled him and it appealed to him: "Man and bull and public assemble in one place for one purpose: to see the bull killed. The arena is the place in which we are all going to be judged." And of course only one can come out alive. That is drama of an antic kind, and Luis Miguel exploited it better than any other fighter I saw.

Not only was he brave, he was also knowing, and could make connections. Next door to the hotel the Madrid Opera chorus was rehearsing Don Giovanni; over and over again they sang "Viva, viva, viva la liberta". Luis Miguel sat on the end of the bed, shoeless: "Every wound I bear is inscribed with the name of a woman," he said. "The bulls knew, they knew that on the day I was a loser, I was thinking about something else, and the bulls were jealous. I wasn't paying them the attention they thought they deserved, and they got me for it."

I don't think Luis Miguel liked writing the book: he felt he was giving something away. At the same time, it was an opportunity to think about his life.

When he broke up with the lovely Lucia, it was because she had put a house around his free soul. A house that had marble and a big bedroom and baths, from which he would flee to sleep in a hut outside. Anything that had to be done was a constraint. Constraints were bad, they were obligations, and when he saw a constraint, he fled.

I asked him once if he regretted anything in his life and he answered - a maxim from which I have learned much - que no hay errores en la vida, "that there are no mistakes in life". That one has lived the life one had to live as well as one could.

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