Ricky Martin - From Child Star To Child Defender

Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin. Courtesy of Omar Cruz


December 24, 1971 in Hato Rey, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Ricky Martin Trivia:

Nickname Kiki

  • Speaks Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Italian
  • Is a vegetarian
  • In 1999, named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People"

It's unusual for anyone to receive a lifetime achievement award before they're even reached the milestone age of 35. But then, Ricky Martin started early with TV commercials at age 6, joining 'Menudo' at age 12, starring in theater and telenovelas in his late teens and releasing his debut album at 21.

If you think about it, by the time Martin wowed the world with his candle dripping "Livin' the Vida Loca' performance at the 1999 Grammies, he'd already been performing for more than 20 years.

Early Days:

Ricky Martin was born Enrique Martin Morales, one of 6 children, to a middle class family in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His mother (Nerieda Morales) was an accountant; his father (Enrique Martin Negroni) was a psychologist. The parents were divorced when Ricky was 2 years old and one of his earliest memories is of being shuffled between the two households.

Displaying talent, charimsa and a love of performance at an early age, Martin sang in the school choir and acted in school plays. His parents enrolled him in voice lessons and encouraged him to audition for television commercials, for which he seemed a natural fit.


Menudo was a Puerto Rican 'boy band', formed in 1977. They became enormously popular via regular appearances on Telemundo.

Martin, like many other talented children in Puerto Rico, was a fan and determined to become one of the group. His father took him to audition when he was 10, but the group thought he was too young and too small to be a member, and he was rejected. Two years later, he tried again and, this time, got in.

He was still the smallest of the group (Martin now stands at 6'2"), but his talent and personality immediately made him one of the most popular band members.

He stayed with Menudo for five years, acting as lead singer during the years that Menudo became an international sensation. Leaving the band, he went back to Puerto Rico and finished high school.

Martin then moved to New York, exploring the music scene there but with little progress. During a trip to Mexico City, he was offered a part in a musical "Mama Ama el Rock", followed by a stint in the soap opera "Alcanzar Una Estrella II". He then acted in the film based on the soap, for which he won a "Heraldo", the Mexican equivalent of an Academy Award.

Debut Album:

In 1991, at the age of 21, Martin released his self-titled debut album. It sold 500,000 copies world-wide, making it one of the most successful debut album by a Latin artist.He followed that up with Me Amaras, which earned him the "Best New Latin Artist" at the 1993 Billboard Video Awards.

Livin' La Vida Loca:

Martin's first English-language pop album - also title Ricky Martin, was released in 1999 and turned him into an international superstar. The album's hit track "Livin' La Vida Loca" became the single with the highest sales figures in Columbia Records' history.

His next album was Sound Loaded, followed by Almas Del Silencio, Life and currently MTV Unplugged.

The Ricky Martin Foundation:

With all that fame (and subsequent wealth), did Martin lay back on his laurels and 'let the good times roll'? Surprisingly, no.

There are a lot of superstars who talk about giving back to the world, but Martin has made good his promise. As a UNICEF ambassador, he founded the Ricky Martin Foundation in 2002 and started "People for Children", energetically attacking sexual exploitation and trafficking of children worldwide.

In 2004, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Premios Los Nuestro; in 2005, the U.S. State Department named him one of its "Heroes in Ending Modern-Day Slavery" and in 2006 the Latin Recording Academy honored him with the "Person of the Year" award.

Listening to Martin speak, he still seems somewhat low-key except when talking about his foundation and child trafficking. His acceptance speech at the 2006 Latin Grammy Awards was reminiscent of The Terminator when he dropped the shy manner, looked straight into the camera and said (to those that exploit children), "We are at war with you".

And - if the cuts from his newest MTV Unplugged album are any indication, he's still making great music.

It will be really interesting to see what he does with his next 30 years.

Sample Albums:

Just Released
Ricky Martin MTV Unplugged
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