Desi was born Desiderio Arnaz III on March 2, 1917 in Santiago, Cuba to Desiderio Arnaz II and Delores de Acha. His father was the mayor of Santiago , which made him by far the youngest politician on the island. His mother's father, Alberto had been one of the founding partners of the Bacardi Rum company. Though he performed various chores on one of his father's three farms, he lived in a world filled with toys, bicycles, horses, maids, speedboats, beach houses, summer skin-diving off private family island resorts and a wide range of other diversions that most Americans much less Cubans never experience.
In the summer of 1934, Fulgencio Batista rallied the army against the corrupt Machado regime and all the officials associated with his power structure, including Desi's father, were rounded up and thrown into jail. This stripped his family of wealth, property and power. His father was released mostly because the U.S. officials believed him to be neutral during the revolt.
The family fled to Miami, Florida. In 1936, an Arnaz family friend form Cuba introduced Desi to the owner of a small rhumba band at the Roney Plaza Hotel, which was considered the leading resort in Miami Beach. He joined the Siboney Septet at the Roney Plaza and one evening not long afterward Xavier Cugat, the world's leading Latin bandleader, happened to be sitting at a table watching the show. Cugat called Desi over after his set, auditioned him the next day, and offered him a job. After high school Desi joined Cugat's band. Desi soon left Cugat, and formed his own Latin band and literally launched the conga craze in America.
Desi was cast in the Broadway play Too Many Girls, which also brought him to Hollywood to make the film version of the play.
It was on the set of Too Many Girls that Desi and Lucille Ball met. They soon married and approximately ten years later they formed Desilu Productions and began I Love Lucy (1951). Desi and Lucy had two children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. In 1960, at the end of the The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour run, the two divorced. Desi continued in show business, producing several shows and making cameo appearances on TV. He also wrote an autobiography and owned a successful horse breeding farm.
Desi was diagnosed with lung cancer and died on December 2, 1986.