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Iglesias continues to improve with age

SURFSIDE, Fla. -- At 60, Julio Iglesias is still pining for love.

Passion, emotion, a smooth voice, and sex-symbol status have made Iglesias the best-selling Latin male recording artist ever. But he says it's his fans' love that drove him to record a new album.

"When you get to the 35-year mark in your career, you make albums for your fans to love you more, so they don't forget about you," Iglesias said in an interview at his waterfront mansion on an island north of Miami Beach.

The father of seven -- including singing sons Enrique and Julio Jr. -- is on a world tour for his album "Divorcio," his first since "Noche de Cuatro Lunas" in 2001.

The title might seem strange for a lover, but the album's songs -- Iglesias's trademark ballads plus lively cumbia and Caribbean rhythms -- refer to divorce from worldly possessions, old acquaintances, and bad memories.

"Divorcia" sold 200,000 copies in Spain the day it was released, adding to Iglesias's career total of more than 250 million albums sold. The master of crossover plans to record songs from the album in French, Italian, and English, as he has done previously to expand his international appeal.

Alexandra Lioutikoff, senior vice president of Latin American membership for the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, said the worldwide market for Iglesias is "guaranteed." "He is like the flag for us," Lioutikoff said. "You have an artist whose first language is Spanish, but he's good and he reaches the people, and it doesn't matter in which language he's singing."

Iglesias's popularity peaked in the 1980s with the album "Julio" and the hit duet with Willie Nelson "To All the Girls I've Loved Before."

Iglesias's ability to sing in English set him apart, opening doors for him among American listeners, Lioutikoff said.

"In the American market, he's been taken seriously since the beginning," she said.

Reaching the heights of Latin music wasn't always on Iglesias's mind. As a young man, not only did he get a law degree, but he also pursued a dream of playing soccer for Real Madrid as a goalkeeper. However, his short-lived futbol career ended when a serious car accident left him unable to walk for two years. During his recovery, Iglesias wrote poems and set them to song, and the erstwhile soccer player who was rejected by the chorus in his Madrid high school fell in love with music.

He landed his first recording contract and hit No. 1 in Spain for the first time in 1968. Since then, he has played in front of 100,000 people in Santiago, Chile; performed songs with Diana Ross, Paul Anka, and Sting; won a Grammy; and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Iglesias finds it rewarding to have stuck around this long. He leans back in his chair, runs his fingers through his curiously jet-black hair, and gets metaphorical about his career after a long day of interviews, evident from the empty wine bottle and barren cheese plate in front of him. "When the painting is hanging on your wall for a long time, you don't notice it. You get tired of it, even if it's a Picasso. When the next generation inherits the painting, they sell it. I don't want to be sold."

He's concerned about how he looks, asking, "You don't find me too bald, do you? Old and bald and with a belly?" He works out regularly and keeps trim, though his handlers didn't allow photographers at the interview and the home was dimly lit on an overcast day.

But Iglesias, ever the symbol of composure, nearly lost his wits in December on a Mexican television program.

Lip-synching "El Bacalao," Iglesias suddenly felt a cramp inching his way up his calf and thigh. He couldn't move his leg, and one pause would inform the world he was not really singing.

Iglesias kept going in what he described as one of the toughest moments of his career. "It's the biggest embarrassment I've ever felt. . . . the only time as an artist when I felt embarrassment, an impotence onstage," he said.

Iglesias is always on the move, bragging that his "life is as fast or faster" than the lives of sons Enrique and Julio Jr., two of his three children from his first (and only) marriage. He's selling his Surfside home for about $20 million as he spends more time at his Dominican Republic estate.

He has four younger children with companion Miranda Rijnsburger, and Iglesias is finding himself watching his babies grow up again. His twin daughters were born in May 2001.

Several publications have written that the relationship between Enrique and his father is strained, partly because Dad didn't get involved early in his son's solo career. Julio Sr. admits he has never seen Enrique perform live, saying their busy schedules haven't coincided, but insists talk of problems is overblown. "The success my children have had has helped me immensely," Iglesias said. "I've showed them a certain respect for this career and certain ambition for this career. They've become popular, and they show a tremendous love for the public. They're professionals."

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