Salsa great Pedro Knight dies at 85

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Pedro Knight, widower of the legendary salsa singer Celia Cruz, died Saturday after years of diabetes and other ailments.

Knight, an accomplished trumpeter who spent his last months mired in financial and legal disputes, was 85.

The Cuban-American salsero died early Saturday morning at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, in Southern California, said Tony Yang, spokesman for Methodist Hospital. The family requested that details of Knight's death be kept private and relatives are planning to release a statement this week through a publicist, Yang said.

Knight grew up in Cuba and, in the rollicking days of Havana in the 1950s, played trumpet in the internationally acclaimed Sonora Matancera, where Cruz was a singer. Band members fled Cuba after Fidel Castro's revolution, resettling in 1960 in Miami and then moving in 1961 to New York, where they performed at the iconic Palladium Ballroom.

Knight pined for Cruz for years before divulging his crush -- only to have the dark-skinned Latin bombshell summarily reject his initial advance.

"She said musicians had too many women and she didn't want to suffer. And, well, it was true. I had a lot of women. But I told her that if she would have me, she could leave that problem to me," Knight told The Miami Herald in 2004. "I stopped seeing all the women. I forgot about every single one. Because Celia was the most special woman in the world."

Cruz soon relented, and the couple wed in 1962. By that time, Knight had already given up professional trumpet playing to manage the skyrocketing career of his wife, dubbed "Queen of Salsa."

Cruz, who affectionately called the white-maned, mutton-chopped Knight "Cabecita de Algodon," (Cotton Head), often crooned about their love. Despite a grueling performance schedule and her status as the most influential woman in Afro-Cuban music, she almost never appeared on stage without Knight.

Their 41-year romance ended with in 2003, when Cruz died from brain cancer in her Fort Lee, N.J., home. She was 77.

Knight's physical and mental health declined after her death. He fainted and required hospitalization after a July 2004 cancer fundraiser in Miami in Cruz's honor, and doctors described it as a combination of diabetes-induced low blood pressure and emotional breakdown.

Knight inherited Cruz's multimillion-dollar fortune, but in recent years executors have squabbled over whether Knight was getting his share of the estate and whether the funds were being mismanaged. Last year, according to published reports, Knight was evicted from his home in Palo Alto for defaulting on the $6,050 monthly rent.

Knight's relatives are traveling this weekend to New York, where funeral arrangements are being prepared at Frank E. Campbell, The Funeral Home. Stephen Schubert, director of the Manhattan funeral home, said it's unclear whether Knight will be buried next to his wife at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Knight is survived by one daughter from a previous marriage, Ernestina Knight of Tampa, Fla.; and four children in Cuba: Pedro, Roberto, Emilia and Gladys.
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