The Copacabana Palace Hall of Fame

Words by Belmond Editors
Timeless monochrome shot of the pool, with three parasols and tables, and people lunching and lounging at the poolside.

If our walls could talk, they’d have countless tales to tell. Since 1923, Copacabana Palace has hosted some of the most glamorous moments — and stars — in Rio de Janeiro. A meeting place for the world’s most glittering names, from Josephine Baker to the Rolling Stones, we’re still the place where legends come to play. Join us as we look back at our Hall of Fame, picking one icon to represent each decade since we opened our doors.

1920s: Mistinguett

It’s the early 1920s, and excitement is in the air. Well-heeled Cariocas have caught wind that a glamorous new beachfront hotel is in the works, modeled by French architect and designer Joseph Gire after the great beach hotels of the 19th and early 20th century. We position ourselves just a stone’s throw from Copacabana beach, hemmed by stunning mosaic walkways, on Avenida Atlântica. To inaugurate the event? None other than French cabaret star Mistinguett, whose sensual performance mesmerized the glitterati in attendance. Rarely seen without sequins and feathers, she was known to have the most beautiful legs in the world — in 1919, she insured them for 500,000 francs.

1930s: Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers

Who better than one of Hollywood’s most enduring duos to bring our beloved Copa to a global audience? Flying Down to Rio, released during the Golden Age of Hollywood in 1933, marked the first screen pairing of toe-tappers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The former plays a musician who arrives on our sandy shores to win over a girl whose father owns a fictionalized version of Copacabana Palace; meticulously recreated sets mimicked our façade. Within the movie, chorus girls dance atop propeller planes in a series of neatly designed ensembles, from nautical-themed pantsuits to revealing two-pieces, a risqué choice at the time that nodded directly at Carioca bikini culture.

1940s: Orson Welles

While we were delighted to host wunderkind Orson Welles at our hotel for eight months in 1942, his stay was somewhat marred by his turbulent relationship with the Mexican actress Dolores del Río. In the city to make the never-finished film It’s All True about samba and carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Welles would take to hosting soirées and beautiful women in his suite — that is until he received a phone call from his stylish lover, informing him that their relationship was terminated due to his infidelities. His stay ended with the fiery director throwing his desk and several other pieces of furniture out of the sixth-floor window and into the pool below.

1950s: Nat King Cole

Velvet-voiced crooner Nat King Cole visited the Copa in 1959 to coincide with the release of his album A Mis Amigos, which was recorded in the city as a love letter to his growing audience of Latin fans. His performance at the hotel took place in the iconic Golden Room, a venue within our walls which opened in 1938 and swiftly became a bucket-list venue for discerning performers including Sammy Davis Jr., Mário Reis, Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald. Discussing what it was like when her father visited the Marvelous City, Carole Cole remembered: “There was so much affection. It was almost like the entire population of Rio de Janeiro turned out en masse to welcome him and throw roses at his feet.”

1960s: Brigitte Bardot

Perched on our balcony, her signature blonde beehive just-so, with legions of fans and press clamouring for her attention... the photos of Brigitte Bardot at Copacabana Palace are among some of the most famous ever taken of the French starlet. ‘BB’ visited us at the height of her fame in 1964 with her then-boyfriend, Brazilian musician Bob Zagury. All the attention, however, left her a little weary; after hosting a press conference within our walls, she departed for the quieter environs of Búzios, which consequently became known as the St. Tropez of Brazil. Bardot’s visit to Rio came at an important time in her career, signalling her move into worldwide fame — just the next year she starred in her first Hollywood film, Dear Brigitte with James Stewart.

1970s: Janis Joplin

Seven months prior to her untimely passing aged 27, rock icon Janis Joplin visited our hotel for series of press interviews, seen here cavorting around the Copa’s pool in her signature hippie threads and round sunglasses. The troubled star and iconoclast had arrived in Rio de Janeiro in an attempt to sober up from her wild lifestyle back in the States — something that didn’t quite work, seeing as she had arrived in the city during the non-stop-party month of carnival. She visited samba schools, favelas, beaches and underground concerts; she was politely asked to leave the Copa after jumping in the pool stark naked, much to the bemusement of the other guests.

1980s: Freddie Mercury

Pictured here during an interview on the roof of Copacabana Palace in 1985 — arriving by helicopter, naturally — Freddie was in town for the first ever Rock in Rio music festival, with the lineup including his band Queen as well as Iron Maiden, Rod Stewart and AC/DC. Queen’s set ended up being one of their most iconic, televised to a global audience of 200 million, featuring a famous moment where countless Brazilians sang “Love of my Life” to the overcome chanteur. Freddie returned to the hotel for a decadent after-party, while fans lit 1,500 candles on the beach outside spelling the word ‘Queen’, reportedly leaving the band deeply moved.

1990s: King Charles III & Princess Diana

The Copa isn’t just a place to celebrate samba spirit; it’s also housed many dignitaries, academics and royals over the years. Three months after Nelson Mandela came to stay, King Charles III and Princess Diana checked in during their ceremonial visit to Brazil in April 1991 — 23 years after Queen Elizabeth II had also visited. The couple’s trip included visits to mines, orphanages, environmental conferences and hospitals, but the pair had time for R&R at our city sanctuary. Staying in our Signature Presidential Suite, they reportedly argued there, with Diana taking an early-morning dip in the pool for some time alone, resulting in a much-viewed paparazzi snap. The royal duo legally separated the following year.

2000s: Gisele Bündchen

Gisele is a true Brazilian icon, so it’s only right that her hotel stays are equally legendary. When she first began gaining recognition in the late 90s, Vogue hailed her rise as the “return of the sexy supermodel,” and she soon took over the world throughout the noughties. But through all her international fame, she still calls Copacabana Palace her second home. Alongside other Brazilian supermodels and fellow Victoria’s Secret angels Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio, Gisele has graced our hotel countless times over the years, whether it’s for a party, a poolside Caipirinha, or some much-needed down time in the Presidential Suite.

2010s: Paul McCartney

In the city to play a concert at the nearby Nilton Santos stadium, Paul McCartney checked into our hotel for three nights as fans camped through the night outside, desperate to catch a glimpse of the former Beatle. From his prime perch in the Presidential Suite and with girlfriend Nancy Shevell in tow, Macca was photographed regularly admiring the views of Copacabana beach from his sixth-floor terrace. He loved the location so much that he requested a bicycle so that he could explore the avenue along the shores below.

2020s: Pabllo Vittar

With over 12 million Instagram followers, Pabllo Vittar is an all-singing, all-dancing superstar who has surpassed even RuPaul as the most-streamed drag artist in the world. The embodiment of Brazilian diversity, Pabllo is beloved by the country’s LGBTQ+ population, with their songs considered anthems for these communities. But they’re no longer just a Brazilian secret: Pabllo is taking the world by storm, collaborating with other artists such as Charli XCX, Anitta and Rina Sawayama, making history as the first ever drag queen to play Coachella. Recently, they joined us to get ready for the 100th anniversary edition of the Copacabana Carnival Ball in collaboration with Vogue, dressed in more-is-more outfits that embody the freewheeling spirit of the word’s most famous party.


Delve deeper into

You might also enjoy