LifeBorn in Seville, his family moved to the Triana neighbourhood when he was three, according to the biographer A. Diaz Canabate. Belmonte began his bullfighting career in 1908, touring around Spain in a children's bullfighting group called Los Niños Sevillanos. He killed his first bull on July 24, 1910. As an adult, his technique was unlike that of previous matadors; he stood erect and nearly motionless, and always stayed within inches of the bull, unlike previous matadors, who stayed far from the animal to avoid the horns. As a result of this daring technique, Belmonte was frequently gored, sustaining many serious wounds.
One such incident occurred during a November, 1927 bullfight in Barcelona, Spain. Belmonte was gored through his chest and pinned against a wall. Several other toreros rescued him. Among the spectators that day were the King and Queen of Spain and the Infanta Beatriz.
Belmonte's rivalry with Joselito (a.k.a. Gallito), another contender for the appellation "greatest matador of all time", from 1914 to 1920 is known as the Golden Age of Bullfighting. The era was cut short when Joselito was fatally gored on May 16, 1920, at the age of 25, at a bullfight in Talavera de la Reina, a small town not far from Madrid. Belmonte then had to carry alone the weight of the whole bullfighting establishment, which proved to be unbearable, and which in 1922 led to the first of his three temporary retirements.
bullfighting corridas (bullfights), a number unmatched by any matador before, until the 1965 bullfight season when Manuel Benítez Pérez ("El Cordobés") performed in 111 corridas, surpassing Belmonte's record. The Mexican matador Carlos Arruza fought 108 corridas in one season but it is said that he refused to pass Belmonte's record out of respect for the maestro.
After his third and final retirement in 1935, Belmonte moved to a 3,500-acre ranch in Andalusia, where he 'lived the life of a gentleman bull-breeder'. He also published a (ghostwritten) autobiography. Written by Manuel Chaves Nogales and published in 1937, it was called Juan Belmonte, matador de toros: su vida y sus hazañas (Juan Belmonte, killer of bulls: his life and deeds) and consisted of his story as told to Nogales. The book was translated into English by Leslie Charteris as Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls. Belmonte was also a close friend of author Ernest Hemingway, and he appears prominently in two of Hemingway's books: Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also Rises. Like Hemingway, Belmonte committed suicide by gunshot.
Juan Belmonte was the single matador that changed the style of bullfighting. Born with slightly deformed legs, he could not run or jump like other boys and so when he finally began his career as a matador, he firmly planted his feet on the ground, never giving way. He forced the bull to go around him, whereas others until then had jumped all over the place like circus performers.
During his bullfighting career he received 24 serious wounds and 'countless minor ones'. He later developed a grave heart condition, identified by a Madrid specialist who advised him to 'go easy' and to stop riding, an instruction that he initially took to heart but, in the last spring of his life, disobeyed in order to ride his favourite horse, Maravilla, on the ranch with his son. Shortly before his death he learned that he had lung cancer. After a final morning ride, he returned home to his ranch house, took his 6.35mm pistol from a drawer in his study and shot himself. He died within a week of his 70th birthday. Berman and Wallace suggest that this may have been a 'copycat suicide'; on hearing of his friend Hemingway's suicide in 1961, Belmonte is said to have answered 'Well done.'
The circumstances surrounding his death are the source of some controversy. A popular version, seen for example in Life, describes events substantially as follows: when Belmonte's doctor told him that, because of his lifelong injuries and trauma, he could no longer smoke cigars, ride his horses, drink wine or perform sexual acts with women, he decided he was ready to die. He ordered that his favourite horse be brought to him, took a handful of cigars, two bottles of his favourite wine and rode out to his finca where he was met by two of Sevilla's "women of the night." He smoked his cigars and drank his wine, engaging one more time in his final passions, took his pistol and shot himself. He had told others prior to his last day that if he could not live like a man he would at least die like one.
A movie about his life, titled Belmonte and directed by Juan Sebastián Bollaín, was released in 1995.
He is interred at the cemetery of Seville, 20 yards from the grave of his rival of seven seasons, Joselito. His wish was to be buried with the robe of his Holy Week fraternity. The cofradías (fraternities or confraternities) of Seville have their religious roots in the guilds of the Middle Ages. Each of the various guilds was responsible for a large float that several men carried during the processions of Holy Week. Upon each float was a large image—picture or statue—of the particular guild's patron saint flanked by a myriad of candles and flowers, e.g. Blessed Mary under the title of La Macarena. Guild members in their colorful hoods and robes vied with each other for attention and adulation. The capataz (leader of the float) sometimes instructs the guild members to sway the image in a way that resembles a festive street dance. At various stations along the way, the float stops in the middle of a neighborhood street to be serenaded by a saeta sung from a balcony. The uniform robe and hood of some guilds is of bright color, while that of others is quite somber. The most severe Guilds are dressed in black, ancestors of the Penitentes of northern New Mexico. At the time of Belmonte's death, Catholic rules prescribed against suicide victims' being buried in consecrated ground. According to today's more pastoral norms, a suicide victim is considered to be temporarily insane, and thus might be accorded Catholic burial. Nevertheless, Belmonte's death provoked a strong sadness in the city of Seville.
In popular cultureBelmonte is referred as a former friend of Montgomery Burns in the episode 533: Four Regrettings and a Funeral of The Simpsons.
Belmonte also appears as a character in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris as a friend of Ernest Hemingway, who considers him to be "truly brave". He is portrayed by Swedish actor Daniel Lundh.