María Eva Duarte a.k.a. María Eva Ibarguren (May 7, 1919 - July 26, 1952) was the second wife of Juan Perón whom she met while working as an actor in B-grade movie melodramas and Radio El Mundo soap operas. After a period as his mistress, she and Perón were married in 1945, and after his election as president of the country, she began to play an active role in politics.
She was born in Los Toldos, Argentina, one of five illegitimate but recognized children born to an unwed cook, Juana Ibarguren (1894-1971), and her married lover, ranch manager Juan Duarte (1872-1926), and was raised in nearby Junín. Her impoverished roots and inclinations led her to assume the role of her husband's liaison with labor becoming a co-leader of the descamisados ("shirtless ones"), the foundation for her husband's political support.
She created the Eva Perón Foundation, an institution to assist the poor, and organized the women's branch of the Justicialist Party. By 1949, Evita, as she was by then affectionately called, was the most influential figure in Argentina.
She became the center of a vast personality cult and her image and name soon appeared everywhere. Despite her dominance and political power, Evita was always careful to never undermine the important symbolic role of her husband. Though she was very much in control of the president's agenda, Evita was always careful to justify her actions by claiming they were "inspired" or "encouraged" by the wisdom and passion of Perón. Privately, however the marriage was often tense. The couple never had any children, which led to some controversy surrounding their sex life, or lack thereof.
Worshiped by her working-class followers and hated by Argentina’s wealthy Anglophile elite, Evita sought to formalize her power by seeking the vice-presidency in 1951 but her attempt was blocked by the military.
Eva Perón died of uterine cancer at the age of 33. Her body was embalmed and kept on display until a military coup overthrew her husband in 1955. Her body was then flown to Milan, Italy, and buried. Sixteen years later, in 1971, the body was exhumed and flown to Spain. Her husband returned from exile to Argentina as president. He died there in 1974, and Eva's body was returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside his. She was reburied in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.
Her life and career are dramatized in the British musical, Evita, co-produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which starred Patti LuPone on Broadway, Elaine Paige in London's West End and Madonna on film. She has also been portrayed on television by Faye Dunaway.