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4 June 1917: Birth of the 'greatest bullfighter of all time'

Manolete in the ring during the golden era of bullfighting.
Manolete in the ring during the golden era of bullfighting. / SUR
  • Manolete rose to prominence shortly after the Spanish Civil War. His death in 1947 was followed by a week of national mourning

Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez, one of the icons of Spanish bullfighting, was born in Cordoba on 4 June 1917.

Better known as Manolete, 'the greatest bullfighter of all time', he rose to prominence shortly after the Spanish Civil War. His innovative techniques put him among the top fighters of the era and, along with Joselito and Juan Belmonte, he invented new passes and techniques that changed the art form beyond recognition.

He was considered to be one of the best at performing the tercio de muerte - the kill. He popularised the Manoletina, a pass made with the small red cloth (muleta) used to attract the bull just before attempting the kill.

One of his greatest contributions was a technique that brought him much closer to the bull's horns than earlier matadors had dared. He was able to remain in one spot and link four or five consecutive passes together as the bull passed.

His career includes numerous anecdotes concerning legendary acts and suicidal performances, for he was active during the art's golden age.

His life outside of the bullring brought the matador much attention from the press, especially his love of partying on the Madrid flamenco scene and his alcohol and drug use.

He died in the bullring in Linares in August 1947 after being gored in the right thigh, a fatal injury that shattered his femoral triangle.

Manolete had previously announced his retirement, amongst calls of cowardice. Against his better judgment, for it was more than his pride could take, he decided to do one last season; a season he would never complete.

Most bullfight aficionados will be able to name the bull that killed Manolete, for his name has been etched into history with the same might as Manolete himself. Islero was a Miura bull, a line of fighting bulls renowned for being large and ferocious. It is said that while a bull's size and strength are inherited from its father, his fighting heart comes from his mother. Following Manolete's death, which left Spain in a state of shock, the bull's mother, Islera, was sacrificed because of a cruel tradition that proscribed death to the mother of a bull that kills in the ring.

Manolete was buried in Cordoba during a week of national mourning, and one-hundred thousand people attended the funeral. He was laid to rest in the pantheon of the Sánchez de Puerta family, where he remained until 1951, when his remains were moved to the Manolete mausoleum in the Cementerio de Nuestra Señora de la Salud in Cordoba.

Some years after his death, an investigation declared that Manolete had not, in fact, died from his injuries. The report claimed that he had died after receiving a transfusion with the wrong type of blood.