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Argentina's Grammy-winning Gustavo Cerati dead at 55

By Jorge A. Otaola

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine musician Gustavo Cerati, a flamboyant showman who brought stadium rock to Latin America with his band Soda Stereo, died on Thursday at age 55.

Grammy-winning Cerati had been in a coma since suffering a stroke in May 2010, after a show in Venezuela.

"This morning, patient Gustavo Cerati passed away," said a statement from the Buenos Aires hospital where he was receiving care.

Soda, as most fans call the group, shot to fame across Latin America and in Spain in the 1980s with a distinctive, harmonious rock-pop sound and a slick image that set them apart from other Latin rock acts and set the stage for future Latin American stars.

Colombian pop idol Shakira said on Facebook: "Gustavo, our most important song of all has yet to be written. I love you, my friend. And I know you love me. As you taught me, 'I will use love as a bridge' which will keep us together forever."

Guitarist and vocalist Cerati formed Soda with bass player Zeta Bosio and drummer Charly Alberti in 1982, just as Argentina's military dictatorship started to crumble following a brief war in the British-ruled Falkland Islands.

During a career that spanned three decades, he received a string of musical accolades including Latin Grammys and MTV awards, both with Soda Stereo and for his numerous solo projects.

Sony Music signed Soda and the band went on to record seven albums between 1984 and 1995, including Signos (Signs), which propelled them to regional fame, and Cancion Animal (Animal Song), perhaps their most popular record.

As a youngster, Cerati was a fan of Pink Floyd, The Beatles and David Bowie, but the Soda Stereo sound is more often compared with The Police.

Buenos Aires-born Cerati was 9 years old when he started playing guitar and joined his first band at 12.

Soda split up in 1997 as creative and personal differences became irreconcilable after 15 years together, although they reunited in 2007 for a farewell tour.

"Few things have been as important in my life as Soda Stereo," Cerati wrote in a letter published in the newspaper Clarin after the split. "It's a delicate balance of clashing ideas."

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2006, he described cocaine binges in his Soda days and how he quit a heavy smoking habit after suffering a stroke.

"After you reach 40, these situations force you to change your way of life," he said, but he showed no signs of retiring from the music scene.

"I don't feel age, or something that says 'it's caught up with me'."

Cerati's solo career brought him international awards in 2006 when he won two Latin Grammys for best rock album "Ahi Vamos" (There We Go) and best rock song "Crimen" (Crime), a single that gained huge popularity in Latin America and Spain.

He released his last album Fuerza Natural (Force of Nature) in 2009, which earned him three more Grammys in 2010.

(Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath and Alejandro Lifschitz; editing by Matthew Lewis and Gunna Dickson)

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