Music legend Waldemar Matuška dies at 76

Waldemar Matuška, photo: CTK

One of the most memorable voices of 20th century Czech pop music has fallen silent. The singer and actor Waldemar Matuška, aged 76, died in his Florida home on Saturday. In a career spanning over four decades, he recorded some 30 albums and starred in more than 20 films.

Yvonne Přenosilová,  photo: CTK
Waldemar Matuška’s baritone was just as distinct as his appearance, and both have earned him enormous popularity ever since the beginning of his career in Prague in the early 1960s. He joined Semafor, a small but very popular Prague theatre, and would initially sleep on stage before he found a place to live. He had his first hit in 1960, and two years later, he won the first ever Golden Nightingale award for the most popular singer of that year. Singer and radio host Yvonne Přenosilová was a life-long friend.

“He was a man who was charismatic not only on the stage. Wherever he showed up, in a pub or anywhere, he always had his fans around him. I admired him my whole life.”

He turned to country and western music in the following decade, and toured the world, appearing at the Olympia in Paris, London’s Royal Albert Hall, and in Nashville. He was also a successful film actor, starring in more than 20 movies, including the award winning 1968 film All My Good Countrymen by Vojtěch Jasný.

After a quarter of a century of being a pop star in his own country, he decided to leave communist Czechoslovakia, and settled in the United States. Yvonne Přenosilová, who herself left Czechoslovakia following the Soviet-led invasion of the country, says she was surprised by his decision.

“He visited me in Munich, in the early 1970s, and he said, ‘you know, you are young, you speak foreign languages, but I’m a Czech singer and I’ll stay in Czechoslovakia, and then all of a sudden in 1986, he went to Florida, probably because of his health – he was very ill at that time already, and the climate in Florida was better for him than in Prague.”

Waldemar Matuška suffered from severe asthma, but kept coming back to Prague after the fall of communism. His last public appearance took place in 2007, which is when Yvonne Přenosilová last met him, too.

“It was in a TV show, and I saw a broken man. We have birthdays on the same day, July 2, and we always celebrated together – me one day, he the next. And I asked him, ‘will we do a party again?’, and he just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know’.