The actress, singer and politician Irma Consuelo Cielo Serrano Castro passed away on 1 March 2023 at 89 years old, having lived a life worthy of a telenovela.
Born on 9th December 1933 in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico, Irma earned herself the nickname of “la Tigresa” during her lengthy and fruitful artistic career, and was deemed one of the most popular ranchera artists of the 1960s. Decades later, the outspoken brunette became an unlikely figure in the political landscape.
Her parents were the journalist, writer and poet Santiago “El Chanti” Serrano Ruiz and Maria Castro Dominguez, who was said to be a wealthy landowner with many estates.
According to Irma, she didn’t spend much time with her mother growing up, which led to feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem. The singer reportedly shared a good relationship with her two older siblings, Mario and Yolanda Serrano Castro, as well as with cousin Rosario Castellanos, the deceased poet who many Mexicans consider to be one of the most relevant writers of the 20th century.
Irma’s father recognized and helped nurture her love for music, as they often spent hours singing and reciting poems together. Although her parents would divorce in 1940, this didn’t affect Irma’s studies, as she previously claimed to be an excellent student, who enrolled into university to obtain a Literature degree, however, there’s no evidence of Irma graduating from said university, and she herself didn’t remember having done so.
Dancing was another of Irma’s passions, as she studied under Chelo La Rué, and was part of a well-known choreography group. Ultimately, however, she chose to focus on singing, and at just 14 years old, she moved to Mexico City to live with her cousin Rosario, in order to pursue her musical ambitions. As Rosario was eight years older and already knew a number of celebrities and influential figures, she was enormously helpful in getting Irma’s career off the ground.
At just 16 or 17 years old, Irma posed nude for the famous painter Diego Rivera. (A photograph taken during one of these modelling sessions lists Irma’s age as 15 years old). In 1950, she was romantically linked to the politician and former governor of Veracruz, Fernando Casas Alemán, who was at the time 45 years old and is often described as one of the great loves of her life.
In 1962, Irma signed a record deal with Columbia Records and recorded the singles “Canción de un preso”, “Prisionero de tus brazos”, and “El amor de la paloma” to name just three. In the same year, she launched her acting career with roles in the movies “El extra” and “Santo contra los zombies”.
Aged 20, the brunette had a minor role in the movie “Tiburoneros” and won prestigious musical accolades such as a Premio Macuilxóchitl for Best Newcomer. The following year, she was named amongst the greatest new artists in Mexico, and won the Trofeo Musa for the second year running, as well as the Trofeo del Concurso Nacional de Televisión. Despite a jam-packed schedule, Irma found time to record her eponymous debut album, and appear in “El corrido de María Pistolas”.
1965 was an important year for Irma’s acting career, as she portrayed characters in “La conquista de El Dorado”, “El hijo de Gabino Barrera”, “Los sheriffs de la frontera”, and other popular movies. In June 1966, her single “Miel amarga” reached number five on national music charts, followed by “Tierra mala” and “El puente roto”, which both peaked at number four.
Thanks to her three top-five singles, Irma was offered more important roles in movies such as “El hijo del diablo”, “Los malvados”, and “Los gavilanes negros”, a stark difference to the minor roles and cameos she’d previously done. In April 1967, her hit single “La Martina” reached number five on the charts, and the success of its follow-up single “El chuparrosa” made Irma the highest-selling artist on her label at the time.
Depending on who you ask, Irma began going by “la Tigresa” in the late 1960s or the early 1970s. Her first lead movie role in the 1972 drama “La Martina” inspired the singer to purchase the Teatro Virginia Fábregas, which she refurbished and renamed Teatro Fru Fru. At Fru Fru, Irma began dabbling in stage plays, and would also make her directorial debut.
Always a controversial figure, it has long been rumored that Irma was investigated by the Mexican government during the mid-1970s for her stage plays, which many citizens claimed promoted lewd sexual behavior and other vices. In 1974, the singer broke into the world of telenovelas with a role in “La tierra”.
Three years later, Irma joined forces with actor and director Alejandro Jodorowsky for the play “Lucrecia Borgia”. However, the promising partnership soon fell apart as the two were unable to work through their creative differences. Even so, Irma went on to produce several stage plays including “Oh… Calcuta” and “Una dama sin camelias”.
The 1980s were another brilliant decade for Irma, as she pushed her career to the limits with roles in “Lola la trailera” and “A calzón amarrado”. In 1984, she teamed up with producer and director Pablo Leder for “Las Emanuele”, which was an enormous success, and was shown at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles. The actress also participated in a lesbian-themed play, “El pozo de la soledad”, which was the topic of public scandal.
Irma ended the 1980s with a recurring role in the show “¿Qué nos pasa?” and her last relevant movie, “Las amantes del señor de la noche”. Over the years, she continued to make sporadic appearances in telenovelas, shows, and movies such as “Juana la Cubana” and “La madrastra”, but in the 1990s, she slowly geared towards politics, and went from deputy of Chiapas to Senator thanks partly to her influence and outreach.
Although Irma’s political career only lasted from 1994 to 2000, she was part of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática.
Irma’s interesting love life remains a topic of discussion even after her death, but according to the telenovela star, she was always faithful to her romantic partners, but never walked down the aisle because nobody ever proposed to her. Piecing together old interviews, we know that Irma fell in love for the first time at around 13 years old with a relative named Jorge la Vega.
In her explosive autobiography, Irma revealed that from 1964 to 1970, she was the mistress of the former President of Mexico, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, who allegedly gifted her a house in Jardines del Pedregal where they carried out their illicit encounters. Irma also claimed that Gustavo took her to Los Pinos, which was at the time the Mexican equivalent of the White House.
Gustavo and his wife Guadalupe Borja were going through a rough patch in their marriage, as she found it hard to cope with his high-pressure career and the threats he received in the aftermath of the infamous Tlatelolco massacre. With help from state secretary Luis Echevarría, Guadalupe tried to blackball Irma from the entertainment industry and used her influence behind the scenes to boycott her projects.
Things between Gustavo and Irma soured when the actress turned up unannounced to Los Pinos and the president went outside to confront her and end the relationship. According to historian Sara Sefchovich, Irma slapped Gustavo hard enough to cause a retinal detachment; shortly afterwards, Guadalupe stepped up her efforts to blackball Irma from showbiz.
In 2002, Irma famously declared during one of her later TV appearances in “La ciudad del sexo” that she had only fallen in love three times, and that the rest of her romantic partners were merely one-night stands. The actress is, however, known to lie or twist the truth in interviews: in 2004, she reportedly miscarried businessman Alejo Peralta’s child, but a decade later, she backtracked and claimed that she had never become pregnant by him.
Around this time, there were also rumors of Irma being married to a much younger man named Jose Julián; it was later revealed that their ceremony had no legal standing, and that their unusual pairing was a way to further Julián’s acting career. Other celebrities who the ranchera star reportedly dated include TV personality Alfonso De Nigris and politician Patricio Zambrano, both of whom were at least three decades younger).
Irma, who never had children and apparently never wished to become a mother, spent her last few years in Comitán, Chiapas, and was taken care of by her nephew Luis Felipe García. On 1st March 2023, the legendary actress passed away in a private hospital from an unspecified cardiovascular problem.