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Surrealist Master Salvador Dali Dies at 84

January 24, 1989 GMT

FIGUERAS, Spain (AP) _ Salvador Dali, who was among the century’s most important painters and created a public image to match his surrealist art, died Monday in the town where he was born 84 years ago.

The melting watches and wasteland of his dreamscape ″Persistence of Memory″ made an indelible impression on contemporary culture. It is probably the most celebrated of surrealist paintings.

Equally identified with ″The Divine Dali,″ as he liked to call himself, were the pointed, waxed mustache curling up like a bull’s horns, long hair and a walking stick, of which he owned more than 30.


Dali, a founder of the surrealist movement, was the last of an outstanding generation of Spanish painters that included Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.

He died at 10:15 a.m. at Figueras Hospital. His physician, Dr. Charles Ponsati, said: ″The cause of death was cardiac arrest brought on by his respiratory insufficiency and pneumonia.″

Dali had heart problems and had been confined to a wheelchair since suffering severe burns in a fire at his home in 1984. He was taken to the hospital five days before his death.

The painter was born May 11, 1904, to a notary public in this small Catalonian town. After a life of flamboyance and eccentricity, his lawyer Miguel Domenech said Dali died ″softly, without making any special last statement.″

King Juan Carlos, a personal friend, sent condolences. Culture Minister Jorge Semprun described Dali as the ″last of a generation of creators who revolutionized art in our century.″

What Dali called his ″sublime craziness,″ began early. He was expelled from art school in 1926 for arrogance and briefly jailed because of political activities for Catalonian autonomy.

After becoming famous, Dali said: ″The only difference between a crazy person and me is the fact that I am not crazy.″

He also said: ″Life would be practically impossible on the globe if there existed 20 or 30 Dalis. But there is nothing to fear. That can never happen.″

Although few critics faulted Dali’s technical virtuosity, they did not hold his work in the highest esteem. Most felt his was a flawed talent, sometimes managing to balance realistic technique and irrational content but too often caught up in his own role as a poseur-painter.

Most of Dali’s critically successful works were completed before he was 35.

Whatever the critics thought, the public adored Dali, who also was a decorator, fashion and jewelry designer and author.

A major retrospective in 1979-80 attracted more than a million visitors in Paris and 250,000 in London.

After being kicked out of the School of Fine Arts in Madrid, Dali went to Paris and became involved with the surrealists, who sought the ″real world″ in the realm of the unconscious and dreams.

Dali made his cinematic mark as co-producer with another Spaniard, Luis Bunuel, of the 1929 short film ″An Andalusian Dog.″ The style and visual violence set a new standard in avant-garde cinema.

When he claimed ″Surrealism is me,″ Dali’s exhibitionism and egocentrism became too much for his associates.

At the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939 he was drummed out of the movement as a ″phony″ and ″archfranquist dilettante.″ Dali made no secret of his support for Gen. Francisco Franco, who won the war and ruled Spain for 36 years.

In Paris on Monday, painter Georges Mathieu, a friend, said Dali was ″more important as a cosmic genius than as a painter.″

Jack Lang, French culture minister, said Dali created ″pictoral work of great philosophical significance, while at the same time making himself known to a vast public.″

Kirk Varnedoe, director of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, said Dali ″created some of the most unforgettable imagery associated with the surrealist movement, but ... may be even more enduringly remembered as a showman.″

Varnedoe spoke of Dali’s ″extraordinary theatrical instincts″ and said: ″For those who are concerned with the intermingling in modern art of the scandalous and the playful, or of psychological revelation and gadfly irritation, Dali will always be an exemplary figure.″

With a loan from Picasso in 1934, Dali made his first trip to the United States with Gala Dimitrovna Diaharoff, the Russian-born woman who became his companion, muse and the touchstone of his personality and life.

She met Dali in 1929 when she and her husband, French surrealist poet Paul Eluard, visited the painter at his seaside home in northeastern Spain.

At Dali’s request, she never left and they married in 1958, six years after Eluard’s death.

They had no children; Dali said geniuses always produced mediocre children. He said Gala was ″the woman who always inspired me ... Without her, everything would be over.″

Gala died June 10, 1982 and, afterward, the painter said he chose to remain inside the castle they had built.

Two years later, a mysterious electrical fire started while Dali slept, sending him to the hospital and bringing to public attention what many termed his near imprisonment by three close associates.

A. Reynolds Morse, founder of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., and an acquaintance of long standing, said at the time the three had refused him entrance to the castle.

After the fire, Dali moved into the Galatea Tower of his Theater-Museum in Figueras and remained there, confined to a wheelchair and fed through a tube. He received a heart pacemaker in 1986.

The highest price paid for a Dali was $2.3 million by a Japanese buyer paid in 1987 for a 1974-76 oil on canvas, ″Gala Looking at the Mediterranean Sea, Which From a Distance of 20 Meters is Transformed into a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko).″

That pales beside the $38.46 million paid for a Picasso in November, but Dali admitted that from 1964 on he began signing blank sheets of paper, resulting in a proliferation of Dali fakes.

His estate has been estimated at nearly $90 million.

His body was returned Monday to the Galatea Tower, where his housekeeper said thousands of people had gathered. The funeral is scheduled for Wednesday and Dali will be buried in the theater-museum’s inner court, beneath a great glass dome crowning the building.