With his rugged rebel look and seductive charisma, Fidel Castro was known not only as a giant of 20th century history, but also as quite the ladies’ man.
Rumours of Castro’s sexual prowess abounded in Cuba even before his days as a black-bearded guerrilla leader hiding out in the mountains.
And those tales lasted straight through his nearly five decades in power, even until his death on Friday at age 90.
Some said he had thousands of women. The New York Post put the figure at a stunning 35,000 in a 2008 article, a figure that came from an unnamed former official.
Journalist Ann Louise Bardach wrote in a 2009 book that Castro told her he had fathered “almost a tribe” of children.
But it is difficult to separate truth from legend.
Castro himself rarely talked about his personal life, despite his famous volubility.
“Private life, in my opinion, should not be an instrument for publicity or politics,” he said in 1992.
He reportedly had a taste for blondes, seducing a string of American, German and Italian women in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1959, just after seizing power, Castro had an affair with a young German woman, Marita Lorenz, who says the CIA hired her to assassinate him.
She lost her nerve, flushed her poison pills down the toilet, and ended up spending their rendezvous at the Habana Hilton making love with him instead, she said in a 1993 interview in Vanity Fair.
Castro had a mysterious power over her from the day she met him as a wide-eyed 19-year-old, she said.
“When Fidel talks to you, he talks to you very close. He looks right in your eye,” Lorenz said, recounting how he immediately swept her off her feet.
“Nothing hit me as hard as this ever — like a ton of bricks. He didn’t let me completely undress. He was the sweetest, tenderest. I guess nobody ever forgets their first lover.”
Historians say Castro had at least seven children by three women.
Rumours of secret affairs and more children abound.
Castro had little patience for the American-style political family.
“Politically speaking as a revolutionary, I refuse to mix my family with politics. In truth the idea of first ladies seems to be ridiculous,” he told US filmmaker Oliver Stone in a 2003 documentary.
In the film, he revealed he was never in fact married to Dalia Soto del Valle, the green-eyed blonde, 15 years his junior, he shared his life with from the 1980s on.
He met the former school teacher in 1961 during a massive literacy campaign launched by his new government, and had five sons with her: Alejandro, Alex, Antonio, Alexis and Angel.
According to Castro, his only marriage was in 1948, to Mirta Diaz-Balart, a philosophy student from a wealthy family.
They had a son together, Fidelito, who is today a 67-year-old nuclear physicist.
The marriage unravelled when Castro was imprisoned after staging a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 — the start of his revolutionary career.
Languishing in prison, he learned she had accepted a job at the interior ministry, where her brother was a high-ranking official. Outraged, he divorced her in 1954.
He had meanwhile begun an affair in 1952 with Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, a pretty blonde who was also married.
Together they had a daughter, Alina, in 1956.
She fled Cuba in 1993 and now lives in Miami.
Castro also reportedly had another son, Jorge Angel, from a 1955 affair with Maria Laborde, an activist in his movement.
One of the most influential women in his life was Celia Sanchez, a fellow rebel who was his confidante and personal secretary — and possibly more — until her death of cancer in 1980.
Except Alina, all Castro’s known children still live in Cuba, where they are largely kept out of the media spotlight.