The first time Charo remembers delivering what became her signature phrase, it was a way to flatter The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson’s ego, as a publicist had advised her to do with men. After he asked her questions full of sexual innuendos, she responded with a wiggle and the line, “cuchi, cuchi, cuchi!”
And it stuck. For decades. She’s actually pretty tired of it.
People continue to assume Charo’s a “stupid cuchi-cuchi,” she told the New York Times in a profile published Wednesday. She has felt underestimated “all the time, all the time.”
Still, she’s continued to give audiences what they want.
“It never gave me a complex,” she said. “I have fun. As long as people enjoy it, I don’t care. Because once I have that, I have the power of the stage.”
Charo — born María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, and nicknamed Charo by her grandmother just after she was born in Spain — elaborated on the origins of the phrase in a June 2014 appearance on Oprah’s Where Are They Now?
“What cuchi-cuchi come from, it is such a disappointment for everybody if they know,” she said. “Because everybody thinks that it’s sex… Cuchillo, that was the name of my dog. He was a mix between a Saint Bernard and a Pit Bull. I make a joke about that, ‘First he bite you, and then he run for help.’ But I call him Cuchi.”
She described how a back problem affected him.
“He [doesn’t] wiggle like the dog,” she said before standing up to demonstrate. “Up front, up front, up front. I swear! Never in my mind was sex. Cuchi cuchi showed me the way to the bank.”
Although she’s grateful for all the words have given her, Charo told the Times that she made a decision to focus on her music — she’s a critically lauded virtuoso guitarist — after her husband of more than 40 years died by suicide in 2019. She felt like she had sold out, and she didn’t want to do that anymore.
“I said to everybody, ‘No more cuchi-cuchi,'” she said. “If you invite me, I will play my guitar.”