Antonio Banderas and his wife Melanie Griffith were among thousands of mourners who turned out for salsa legend Celia Cruz's funeral in New York yesterday (22JUL03).

Hordes of fans cheered as a horse-drawn carriage carried Cruz's flower-covered bronze coffin down the city's Fifth Avenue to a packed ST PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL.

Singers Jon Secada and REUBEN BLADES joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other dignitaries at a Spanish mass.

The start of the service drew a burst of applause as the Cuban flag was brought down the aisle accompanied by Miss Universe 2002 DENISE QUINONES of Puerto Rico, followed by Cruz's family members and friends.

Auxiliary Bishop JOSU IRIONDO said during the service, "She was very famous but was always the same person. In heaven she will continue to sweeten our lives."

At the funeral service, singer Patti Labelle received a standing ovation from the 2,000 mourners packed into the cathedral for her rendering of AVE Maria and wild applause erupted as the coffin was carried from the cathedral.

After the mass, Cruz was buried in a private ceremony at WOODLAWN CEMETERY in the Bronx, New York.

Cruz - who died on 16 July (03) her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at the age of 77 - left Cuba as a star in 1960. In exile she became an iconic figure for Latin Americans.

23/07/2003 21:38