Leon Ichaso, ‘El Cantante’ and ‘Bitter Sugar’ Director, Dies at 74

Leon Ichaso, who directed the Héctor Lavoe biopic “El Cantante,” “Bitter Sugar” and several major TV series, died of a heart attack Monday morning in Los Angeles. He was 74.

Ichaso’s sister, Mari Rodriquez Ichaso confirmed the news, writing on Twitter: “My beloved brother Leon Ichaso died today of an unexpected ‘massive heart attack’ in Los Angeles. Brilliant, full of life, young in spirit and illusions. A wonderful filmmaker and a unique being – and everyone who has met him knows it. I am destroyed. God help us!”

Mari Rodriquez Ichaso eulogized her brother in her initial announcement, recognizing all of the productions Leon has worked on throughout his prolific career. “Leon Ichaso – RIP – Pioneer of telling the history of immigrants in his movies! A brilliant director and writer. Loved Life. My beloved brother! ‘El Cantante,’ ‘Piñero,’ ‘El Super,’ ‘Sugar Hill,’ ‘Paraíso,’ ‘Bitter Sugar,’ ‘East of Eden,’ ‘Miami Vice,’ ‘Queen of the South.’ Damn sudden heart attack!”

The Cuban American filmmaker directed dozens of TV series, including “Miami Vice,” “The Equalizer,” “Sins of the City” “Medium,” “The Cleaner,” “Criminal Minds,” “Prodigal Son” and most recently “Queen of the South” in 2021.

Ichaso also directed over 15 films, including TV movies “Hendrix,” “Ali: An American Hero,” “Execution of Justice” and “Free of Eden,” as well as various Spanish language features, including his Cuban trilogy: “El Super,” “Bitter Sugar” and “Paraíso.”

His 2001 Miguel Piñero biopic “Piñero” garnered him awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, ALMA Awards and the Chamizal Independent Film Festival. In 2006, he directed Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez in “El Cantante.”

Born in Havana, Cuba, Ichaso and his family migrated to Mexico in 1962, and then later to New York.

Ichaso is survived by his sister, Mari Rodriquez Ichaso.

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