The nation had a visceral reaction to Eva Perón’s untimely death at only 33 years old. While she lived, the woman best known as Evita was loved by Argentinians so much that she was her husband’s running mate for a second presidential term in 1951. Unfortunately, her health started to decline so she withdrew her candidacy, but Juan was still elected overwhelmingly. Diagnosed with cervical cancer, she underwent a hysterectomy performed by a revolutionary American oncologist named George Pack. Early indications were that the surgery was successful, but it quickly became evident that the cancer had metastasized and spread. She then underwent chemotherapy, the first Argentinian to receive this radical new treatment, pioneered in part by Dr. Pack. She failed to respond to treatment, continued to decline rapidly, and in July 1952 passed away.
The outpouring of grief was so pervasive that Evita was given a state funeral, usually reserved for heads of state, and the nation went into national mourning. The reaction from the public was indeed much more than expected. Tens of thousands of people crowded in to see her body being moved from the Ministry of Labor; so much so that several people were crushed to death and thousands required medical treatment in local hospitals. While lines stretched down city streets waiting for a chance to view her body in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian Olympic team, then in Helsinki for the summer Olympic games, got their own memorial service to honor Evita.
Even today she is revered by the nation that remembers her both for her actual accomplishments and the mythology that has grown around her since the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical named after her brought this “minor radio matinee star” to the world stage. While beloved in her own country, probably most non-Argentinians confuse her with Madonna.
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David J. Kent is an avid traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores late summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.