Rodolfo “El Pana” Rodríguez has died. The bullfighter drew his last breath at 6.45pm on the eighth floor of the Hospital Civil in Guadalajara, surrounded by his family and medical staff. He was 64 years old. According to the hospital, his pneumonia worsened, before he suffered a fatal heart attack.
El Pana had been left tetraplegic after sustaining a severe bullfighting injury in May. He could not move or breathe by himself. His last and most intimate wish was to leave this world.
El Pana met his fate in a bullfighting ring in Durango on May 1, when the second bull charged at him
Dying was his victory. El Pana met his fate in a bullfighting ring in Durango on May 1, when the second bull, Pan Francés, or French Bread, charged at him. The attack put an end to his 37-year career.
He suffered a severe neck injury and had three broken vertebrae. Doctors performed a tracheotomy, among other procedures, but were unsuccessful. El Pana was left paralyzed. Aware of his condition, he communicated his desire to die to his doctors and relatives through gestures and whispers.
The medical staff, knowing that his life was hanging by a thread, decided to avoid any aggressive therapies. A few days later, when they noticed an improvement, they moved him out of the intensive care unit. “He remained stable for a week but this morning his health suddenly deteriorated,” Francisco Martín Preciado Figueroa, the director of the hospital, told EL PAÍS.
El Pana’s death closes a unique chapter in the history of Mexican bullfighting. He was extravagant and a scoundrel. El Pana was the bullfighter of the slums. He liked to arrive at the ring in a pink buggy, wearing a 19th-century-style ponytail and smoking huge Havana cigars. He did not like rituals or genuflection. He had known the pains of hunger, prison life and the clutch of alcohol. Before he became a matador, he was a gravedigger, a jelly-O vendor and baker. Hence his nickname, El Pana, taken from the Spanish word for baker, panadero. The erudite turned their backs to him; the elegant crowd rejected him. He was a sad figure, an almost comical character in a country that’s impossible to explain.
He liked to arrive at the ring in a pink buggy, wearing a 19th-century-style ponytail and smoking huge Havana cigars
El Pana had a theatrical style but glory always eluded him. The closest he got to it was when he decided to raise some money by organizing a farewell performance. On January 7, 2007, he entered the ring at the Monumental Plaza de Toros in Mexico City and in front of thousands of open-mouthed aficionados, he broke the protocol he so hated and saluted “the whores, the women of golden heels and red lips.” He asked God to bless them. “They satiated my hunger and they gave me protection in their chests and thighs. They accompanied me in my loneliness,” he said during the televised event. The bulls did not matter anymore. El Pana was now famous. Still, his notoriety quickly faded even though he kept working and had the longest career among Mexican bullfighters. Fame did not visit him again until May 1 in that ring in Durango where, black and twisting, she launched at him.
This week El Pana died at dusk in Mexico. It was what he wanted. His final goodbye.
English version by Dyane Jean François.