GLORIA ESTEFAN has been in the international spotlight for only a brief five years. Despite this, the singer's career seems to have come full circle.
Estefan, who along with Miami Sound Machine helped pioneer Latin dance-pop, made headlines in March 1990, after a bus crash left her with a damaged spine and a questionable future. But Estefan underwent a speedy, dramatic rehabilitation that astounded and delighted both her doctors and fans.
In fact, Estefan's recovery was so rapid that she released a new Epic Records album, "Into the Light," and embarked on a worldwide tour less than a year after the accident.
Estefan has returned to performing a bigger star than ever. She was forced to postpone a European tour in 1990 because of the accident, but only 12 fans in all of Europe sought refunds, according to her husband, Emilio, who also is her producer and manager.
On this tour, according to Estefan's agent, Jorge Pinas, she sold out 10 shows at London's Wembley Stadium and did similar business in Japan, Sweden and Germany. (Her U.S. tour rolls into the Capital Centre in Landover tonight.)
In fact, Estefan's tour is one of a handful of profitable jaunts during a recession-wracked summer concert season that has seen some cancellations and partially filled arenas.
"I think the tour says something about Gloria and her relationship with her fans," Pinas said. "Gloria's a real person. A lot of stars won't get close to you, but Gloria takes her time with people and is very loyal. A lot of other acts just go back to the hotel room after a show, but Gloria talks to her fans. She talks to her crew. She really cares."
Estefan's Cuban immigrant father, Jose, suffered from a neurological disease that left him confined to a wheelchair for a time until his death in 1980.
She said her first thought immediately following the accident was, "Uh-oh, here it is."
"I instantly thought I couldn't walk," Estefan said. "That to me was the worst, because my father spent years in a chair.
But I took comfort in the pain I was feeling, because I knew that if it had been a severe spinal cord injury, I wouldn't be feeling anything."
"All of a sudden life wasn't just about getting up in the morning," the singer said. "I was more reflective. I spent hours wondering about life, because I couldn't do anything else but sit around. I had to work to get back, and I had to find that strength from within.
"I got hundreds of letters from [incapacitated] people telling me that they took strength in my example. That made me realize that I could actually use this accident to motivate people. I still hope that when people see me, they take hope in that."