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August 29, 2014

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Charo Nation

WEEKEND EDITION: Jan. 19, 2003

Charo first performed in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace in 1966 with bandleader Xavier Cugat, who later became her husband. Her first Las Vegas gig was a quick show, as Charo recently recalled, since she was still a minor and had to get on and offstage before anyone was the wiser.

Five years later, though, and the Spanish siren was opening for comedian Buddy Hackett at the Sahara, and later that decade she and her then-husband had a show of their own at the Tropicana. (Charo later divorced Cugat and married Kjell Rasten, who is her manager.)

Besides her Las Vegas appearances, Charo also made the rounds on the talk-show circuit, including more than 45 appearances on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," along with frequent appearances on "The Love Boat" and "Hollywood Squares."

Best known for her signature "cuchi-cuchi" and sexpot image, Charo returned to Las Vegas in 2001 to headline "Bravo" at The Venetian, which also featured her skills as a world-renowned classical guitarist.

She then took her show to the Sahara, only to move to the Aladdin's Desert Passage, where it opened Friday at the Sevilla Steakhouse and Nightclub.

The Las Vegas Sun recently chatted with the 52-year-old Charo about coming back to Las Vegas, her new show "Bravo 2003" and her favorite moment on "The Love Boat."

Las Vegas Sun: It was 14 years ago that you quit touring and moved to Hawaii. What motivated you to put your career on hold?

Charo: My son (Shel) was 5 years old and he had to be steady in the same school. I didn't want him to be a gypsy, moving from one city to another, or growing up with nannies and me calling him by telephone and saying, "I love you." I didn't want him to write a book when he grows up and call it "Cuchi-Cuchi Dearest." That's why I canceled everything.

In 1988, Christmas, that was my last performance because I moved to Hawaii to raise my son. The whole family moved ... my aunt, my mother, my sister, my brother-in-law, my husband, my three dogs ... They called it the Spanish Armada. When we arrived in Hawaii, they said, "Oh my, we've been invaded again by Spaniards."

Sun: Why did you come back to Las Vegas?

Charo: In '99 my son graduated and my commitment as mamasita wasn't over, but it was shrinking because then he went to college. When they are taller than you are, you have no more power.

So the whole family again moved back to Beverly Hills (Calif.) (while) my son went to USC. It took about maybe a month to ... then establish home base. (The Venetian) offered me to come to Las Vegas and I, of course, jumped at their offer. It's still my home. I admire Las Vegas. It's a combination of family-oriented and still very exciting and sexy.

Sun: Why did you leave the Sahara?

Charo: I love the Sahara and I was heartbroken (to leave). But the concert at the Sevilla is perfect for me. It fits me like a glove. The new show has more authentic flamenco and is very, very Spanish. I open the show this time with the most beautiful and exciting dance from Sevilla (Spain).

Sun: You're an accomplished guitarist whose talents have often been overshadowed by your onstage antics of "cuchi-cuchi." Do you have any regrets about putting your sexy image before your musical talents?

Charo: As I said in the show, I had no regret to the "cuchi-cuchi" show. It showed me the way to the bank. It's a gimmick. It's fun. It has nothing to do with sex ... it's energy and fun. The most I talk about it in the show is five minutes, after that it's over.

But if it wasn't for "cuchi-cuchi," I would be selling tomatoes in Tijuana.

Sun: What's your fondest memory of your many appearances on "The Love Boat"?

Charo: I was pregnant in one of the last ones. I really looked like a watermelon in high heels. The belly was showing. The girl I was playing, April, was not allowed to get pregnant, (but) I was already 6 months (along). And when you're pregnant the hormones make you emotional. There was a scene where I was to be a nanny, and the parents were thinking of putting the children in boarding school. I was crying and I was really going through the scene. I remember my son kicking inside, like, "Hey you, don't take it so seriously."

The "Love Boat" was very entertaining and it ... introduced me as an actress. If you're a comedian, it's very easy to act. If you're serious, it's very difficult to do comedy. It was good fun for me.

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