Gustavo Cerati, the Argentine singer-songwriter who led Soda Stereo, one of the most popular and influential Spanish-language rock and pop groups of the 1980s and ’90s, died on Thursday in Buenos Aires, four years after he lapsed into a coma. He was 55.
The cause was respiratory failure, his doctors said. Mr. Cerati had suffered a stroke in Caracas, Venezuela, following a concert there on May 15, 2010, and had been hospitalized ever since.
Soda Stereo, a power trio in which Mr. Cerati sang and played guitar and keyboards, was founded in 1982, as the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina was crumbling. That timing proved propitious: the return of democracy the next year permitted an explosion of pent-up energy and self-expression among young people, and Soda Stereo, performing in clubs on the underground circuit, quickly came to embody the new freer, atmosphere.
The band’s self-titled first album was released in 1984 and was an immediate success. Both Mr. Cerati and the bass player, Héctor Bosio, had worked at advertising agencies, so they were attentive to the group’s image and to new promotional tools like video clips, interactive tracks and, eventually, the Internet.
Later in his career, Mr. Cerati wrote for and recorded with other Latin American artists, most notably Shakira. He appears on three of her most popular records, the two “Oral Fixation” discs and “Sale el Sol,” earning a co-producer’s credit on each.
Gusatvo Cerati was born on Aug. 11, 1959, into middle-class circumstances in Buenos Aires: his father, Juan José Cerati, was an engineer and his mother, Lilian Clark, was from a family of English and Irish descent. During the military dictatorship, he took refuge in pop music — not just the British Invasion bands of the ’60s but also emerging punk and New Wave acts like the Cure, XTC, the Damned and especially the Police.
Other Latin American bands had played rock and enjoyed local success. But Soda Stereo (the band included the drummer Charly Alberti) was one of the first, if not the very first, to achieve mass adulation on a continental level: hit records across Latin America led the band to tour widely, especially in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and in Chile, where the dictator Augusto Pinochet was still in power and Soda Stereo was seen as a symbol of cultural opposition.
At its peak, in the early 1990s, Soda Stereo drew crowds of over 100,000 to some of its Argentine shows in stadiums and parks. Over all, the group released seven major-label studio CDs, plus various live albums, EPs and greatest hit compilations, and earned gold or platinum records in more than 20 countries, including Spain. The band also toured in the United States, with more modest results.
Soda Stereo dissolved in 1997 (there would be a reunion tour 10 years later) but Mr. Cerati found continued success as a solo artist. His first album under his own name after the break-up, “Bocanada,” (“Mouthful”) was released in 1999 and mixed mainstream rock and electronic influences, along with samples from songs by bands that he had loved as a boy, like the Spencer Davis Group, Electric Light Orchestra and Focus.
The first single from the record, “Puente” (“Bridge”), quickly became a chart-topping hit throughout Latin America and in Europe. A bright and optimistic love song with a power-chord chorus, it was accompanied by a futuristic sci-fi-style video that proved to be catnip for MTV Latinoamérica, then emerging as a powerful force.
Mr. Cerati would release five more albums under his own name, all of which were commercially successful and varied widely in style. “11 Symphonic Episodes,” also issued as a DVD, recast songs from his Soda Stereo days in an orchestral setting, while “+Bien” supplied the soundtrack for the 2000 Argentine film of the same name, and “Fuerza Natural,” (“Natural Force”), emphasized Argentine folk music and employed acoustic instruments.
“Natural Force,” his last record, released in 2009, won three Latin Grammy Awards, including best rock album. Mr. Cerati received a total of six LatinGrammys, including awards for his songwriting and production.
On the side, dating back to the 1990s, Mr. Cerati explored his fascination with electronica. He did so under other identities: as a member of the studio group Plan V or the duo Ocio or with the keyboard player Daniel Melero.
Mr. Cerati also performed on various tribute albums. On a Spanish-language album honoring the Police, he played with Andy Summers, that group’s guitarist, on a new version of “Bring on the Night,” and also contributed tracks to records honoring the Beatles and Queen.
Mr. Cerati was married twice: to the Argentine designer Belén Edwards and the Chilean model, actress and disc jockey Cecilia Amenábar, with whom he had two children, Benito and Lisa Cerati. They survive him.
Though not unexpected, Mr. Cerati’s passing led to an outpouring of expressions of grief and affection, from both his fans, now mostly in middle age, and his fellow musicians.
“Gustavo, we still have to do the most important song of all,” Shakira wrote on her Facebook account. “I love you, friend, and know that you love me! Just as you taught me, I’ll use love as a bridge.”