The Sad End Of Joao Gilberto, The Voice Of Bossa Nova

Channels Television  
Updated July 7, 2019
In this file photo taken on August 14, 2008, Brazilian singer and composer Joao Gilberto, then 77, one of the trio of Brazilian artists who brought Bossa Nova to the world in 1958, performs during a concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Marco HERMES / AFP


As if to say goodbye, Joao Gilberto emerged from seclusion a few days before his death and had dinner at a restaurant on Rio’s Copacabana beach.

The musician who gave the world the bossa nova and is remembered for his haunting version of “The Girl from Ipanema” died Saturday at age 88 after a life of international stardom but also mounting family, financial and health difficulties.

On Tuesday, he made a final public appearance at a restaurant in Leme, at one end of the Copacabana beach, with his partner Maria do Ceu Harris and his lawyer, Gustavo Carvalho Miranda, who posted photos of the event.

He had shellfish, his favourite dish, and drank Portuguese wine.

On his way home, he reminisced about glorious dinners past, in New York after performing at Carnegie Hall, in Italy and in Rio after another show, his lawyer told O Globo.

The memories were likely a pleasant escape from the pressures of recent years, aggravated by the death in December of his ex-wife Miucha, another name associated with the explosion of Brazilian music in the late 1950s.

According to press reports, Gilberto and Miucha had remained close over the years.


For the artist — financially ruined, sick and living in a borrowed house in Rio — his end, like many of the songs he made famous, was suffused in sadness.

His last years were marked by a bitter fight that pitted his two eldest children — the musicians Joao Marcelo and Bebel Gilberto — against Gilberto’s last ex-wife, Claudia Faissol, a journalist and mother of his adolescent daughter.

Bebel — the daughter of Miucha and Joao Gilberto — and Joao Marcelo accused Faissol of taking advantage of their father.

Joao Gilberto was declared incompetent by a Brazilian court in 2017 at the request of Bebel, who said her father was in no condition to care for his health or finances because of physical and mental frailty.

Ruy Castro, author of a book about bossa nova called “Chega de Saudade,” after an early Gilberto song, said the musician was obsessed with control.

“In front of the microphone, he achieved it. Offstage, it was the opposite: he never had control over his life. He tended to delegate to others… but life writes its own verses and, at times, it’s out of tune,” Castro wrote in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo.

Eccentric genius

Despite his genius, or perhaps because of it, Gilberto was never an easy person.

He was almost as well known for his perfectionism and eccentricities — he would shut himself in for long spells, opening his door mainly to receive meal deliveries from restaurants — as for his beloved interpretations of “Desafinado,” “Corcovado” or “Chega de Saudade,” often sung as duets with his first wife, Astrud Gilberto.

“Gilberto is like Michael Jackson or Prince, an artist of rare genius, although his peculiarities intensified to culminate in today’s terrible situation,” the music critic Bernardo Araujo told AFP last year.

The fall

To some, Gilberto’s decline dates to 2011, the year Faissol convinced him to do a concert tour to celebrate his 80th year.

Gilberto ended up cancelling the tour, citing health problems, but then had to repay some $600,000 he had received in advance.

Two years later, in the midst of a prolonged battle with his first recording company, and with no new release since 1989 or public concert since 2008, he sold 60 percent of his rights to his first four records.

One of the last times Brazilians saw him perform was in a 2015 home video, when the singer was recorded in his pajamas playing “The Girl from Ipanema” on the guitar to his daughter.