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Spanish Duchess Of Alba Remembered As A Colorful Figure


One of Europe's richest and most eccentric aristocrats was laid to rest today.


SIEGEL: The Duchess of Alba died yesterday at her palace in Seville. Lauren Frayer tells us about her colorful life.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Long before Kim Kardashian, there was the Duchess of Alba, famous for simply being famous and fantastically wealthy.


FRAYER: She was an aficionado of flamenco, bullfighting and horses, a stereotype of Spain itself. She was outrageous. She flaunted her flashy style, plastic surgery and marriages to much younger men. One had even been a priest. She brought a bit of levity into high society and for that, Spaniards adored her.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: A gaggle of old ladies in my Madrid barrio smile wide when I ask if they liked her. We read about her in all the magazines, one says, and she did a lot of charity work, says another. The Duchess also knew how to spark a good old-fashioned controversy like three years ago when at age 85, she married a commoner 25 years her junior.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: TV talk shows made fun of her. The Duchess's six children disapproved of the marriage - so did Spain's then King Juan Carlos. But the Duchess explained.


DUCHESS CAYETANA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: They're all against it, but I'm sincerely in love she told reporters at the time. Still, her new husband did sign a prenuptial agreement. Outside the wedding, the Duchess's third, she flung off her shoes and danced flamenco for the paparazzi. Her arms flailing above her frizzy, white hair. The Duchess's real name was Dona Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, but Spaniards knew her as simply la Duquesa, the Duchess, or Cayetana. She was born in Madrid in 1926, and her life spanned practically every major event in the formation of modern Spain says historian Hamilton Stapell.

HAMILTON STAPELL: The years of hunger after the Civil War, Spain's opening up to the rest of Europe, the smooth transition to Democracy - I mean, she saw and experienced all of that. And I think that's perhaps why Spaniards embraced her so much, because she had lived Spain's history and yet still danced.

FRAYER: She held the Guinness world record for Aristocratic titles - 57. She was the only person on Earth exempt from bowing before the Pope. She famously refused to pose for Pablo Picasso, but still amassed one of the world's biggest private art collections with Goyas, Rembrandts and yes, even Picassos valued at up to $5 billion. The Duchess of Alba died surrounded by her art and family in one of her many palaces after a bout with pneumonia, she was 88. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.