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Flamenco Guitarist Paco de Lucia Dead at 66

Flamenco guitarist, producer and composer Paco de Lucia, who thrilled audiences for decades with his lightning-fast flamenco rhythms and fretwork, died early today (February 26) in Mexico. He was 66.

A spokeswoman for the town hall of de Lucia's native town — Algeciras, Spain — said de Lucia's family members said the guitarist died of a heart attack.

She added that de Lucia began to feel sick while on a beach in Cancun with his child. He died while being taken to a nearby hospital.

De Lucia, a proponent of the New Flamenco style, helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain and was one of the first flamenco guitarists to successfully cross over into other genres of music, including classical and jazz. He was often referred to as the world's premier flamenco guitarist and "Spain's greatest musical export."

His influence on flamenco guitar has been compared with that of Andrés Segovia's on classical guitar.

Richard Chapman, who wrote Guitar: Music, History, Players with Eric Clapton, described de Lucía as a "titanic figure in the world of flamenco guitar." In a 2011 interview with Guitar World, Yes guitarist Steve Howe said of De Lucia's group, "It was like music had been reinvented."

De Lucia, whose birth name was Francisco Sanchez Gomez, was born December 21, 1947. One of his best-known recordings was Friday Night in San Francisco, which he released with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola in 1981. During the Sixties and Seventies, he formed a popular duo with late flamenco singer legend Camaron de la Isla. His 1973 rumba, "Entre Dos Aguas (Between Two Waters)," became one of the most popular recordings in Spain.

Friends and fellow guitarists have taken to Twitter and Facebook to express their sorrow over the loss:

"My dear friend has passed and we will never forget his important legacy! My years with Paco were amazing and unforgettable! I will miss him terribly:(( RIP Paco." — Al Di Meola

"Today we mourn the loss of one of the world's greatest. May you rest in peace, Paco de Lucia." — John Petrucci

"One of the greatest guitarists and composers of all time, Paco de Lucia, has passed away, RIP." — Alex Skolnick

Describing the death as unexpected and premature, Education and Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said he was "a unique and unrepeatable figure."

De Lucia was awarded the Culture Ministry's Fine Arts Gold Medal in 1992 and the Prince of Asturias prize for the Arts in 2004.