Concha Velasco, an enduring and beloved actress who was a fixture in Spanish theater, film, and television for more than 60 years, has died at the age of 84. Velasco died in a Madrid hospital early Saturday “as a result of a complication in her illness,” her sons said in a statement. She had been in declining health in recent years and was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014.
Who was Concha Velasco?
Born in the northwestern city of Valladolid in 1939, Velasco’s career began as a teenager in 1950s Spanish musical theater. She would go on to appear in more than 80 films and dozens of theater productions over her long career, establishing herself as one of Spain’s most popular entertainers.
Velasco first gained fame as a singer and dancer, performing spirited numbers in Spanish comedies and musicals that resonated with local audiences. She became known to moviegoers internationally with roles in Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 drama “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and Fernando Trueba’s 1996 film “The Girl of Your Dreams.”
Influential Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel once described Velasco as an actress “who speaks with her eyes,” and her energetic style and youthful spirit would endear her to generations of fans in Spain and Latin America who dubbed her “La Chica Ye-Yé” — “The Yeah Yeah Girl,” a nod to her frequent musical performances.
While known as a film star, Velasco was widely respected for her theatrical career and work on Spanish television. One of her most acclaimed roles was as Spanish nun and religious leader Teresa de Ávila in a 1983 biographical series. In more recent popular roles, she portrayed the sly matriarch Carmen Villamediana on the Netflix series “Cable Girls.”
“A myth of Spanish culture has left us,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote on social media Saturday. “One of the most beloved and charismatic artists in Spain.”
Leading Lady On Screen and Stage
Velasco worked regularly well into her late 70s but mounting health issues forced her retirement from the stage in September 2021 at age 81. Even while dealing with illness in her final years, colleagues said she retained the fiery charisma and charm that made her an audience favorite.
“Concha has been one of the actresses with greater popular success and better reception by critics,” said Fernando Méndez-Leite, president of the Spanish Film Academy that awarded Velasco a lifetime achievement honor in 2013.
In a career punctuated by memorable roles across stage and screen, some of Velasco’s most famous films included romantic comedies like “The Lovers” (1958) and dramas such as “Tormento” (1974), “Female Plural” (1975) and “Beyond the Garden” (1996).
Well known for playing strong female lead characters on film, her theater credits read like a catalog of the most acclaimed playwrights in the Spanish language — from Federico García Lorca and Carlos Arniches to Lope de Vega.
Some of her most applauded stage work came in productions like “Filumena Marturano” (1979), “Carmen Carmen” (1988), and “Hello, Dolly!” (2001). She won Spain’s esteemed Valle-Inclán Prize for Best Actress in 2015 for her starring role in “Hecuba” by Euripides.
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“I never thought about whether there were good roles for women or not in the theater world,” Velasco told El País newspaper in an interview last year before she died. “I have done everything that came my way.”
Cultural Icon Who Connected Generations
Part of Velasco’s lasting appeal was her unique style — the warmth, vitality, and subtle defiance that resonated across mediums and generations during a career spanning huge changes in Spanish society.
Born in the hard years after Spain’s Civil War, Velasco was part of an entertainment world that flourished during the 1960s, and she became an idol of the nation’s “Ye Ye” generation, named for the era’s explosion of pop and rock music.
With her stage roles and television appearances, Velasco endeared herself to younger viewers as well in later years. Her turn as the devious matriarch Carmen Villamediana in Netflix’s “Cable Girls” introduced her to new audiences.
Famous for decades, Velasco molded and grew with the evolution of Spanish cinema and theater. From starring in heavily censored domestic comedies through the rule of dictator Francisco Franco, she smoothly transitioned to nuanced dramatic work and productions with some of Spain’s most internationally celebrated directors.
“She managed to be a true star without ever abandoning simplicity, audacity, talent, and the immense affection of the public,” Spain’s Minister of Culture Miquel Iceta, said Saturday.
A Final Bow
In their death announcement, Velasco’s family expressed gratitude for the “love and admiration” she generated over decades.
Velasco is survived by her son Manuel, a theater director and playwright who was at her side when she died.
“With one hand holding mine and another holding (son) Paquito’s,” Manuel Velasco said of his mother’s last moments outside the Madrid theater where her funeral chapel was installed Saturday afternoon.
There, at the theater that had been like a second home for Velasco, emotional colleagues and life-long fans stopped by to say final goodbyes and offer flowers, photos, and heartfelt memories of Spain’s beloved, enduring star of stage and screen.