She is still tall and tan and lovely, and when she walks by, people still nudge each other with faint incredulity. Airline passengers change seats to sit next to her. Women smile shyly and sometimes say hello. Men gawk.

The girl from Ipanema has grown up. She's nearing 60, although she likes to tell strangers that she is a decade younger. Which somehow makes sense, because she's still defined by youthful beauty: jolting, sea-green eyes; honey-blond hair; pole-straight posture; a trim figure.

Not much has changed for Helo Pinheiro, although nearly 35 years have passed since poet Vinicius de Moraes revealed that she had inspired his hit song, "The Girl From Ipanema."

For Pinheiro, the song has meant a lifetime of work and celebrity, as a talk show host, soap opera actress, beauty pageant organizer, model, businesswoman, author, newspaper columnist. She has visited 10 countries on four continents. Her face has appeared on cans of tea in Japan. She has posed for Playboy magazine.

For Brazil, the song came to embody the mythical, mysterious beauty that enshrouds this nation--a beauty most powerfully symbolized by this shimmering former capital that calls itself The Wonderful City.

And all because a songwriter and a poet happened to see a beautiful teenager stroll past a bar.

"Yes, it changed my life, that one moment," Pinheiro said recently, sitting in a hotel restaurant at a table overlooking Ipanema Beach. "I think there's something about me that's allowed me to keep it going for all these years. But yes, it all goes back to that moment."

Tom Jobim, de Moraes's songwriting sidekick, spotted her first in 1962. He kept seeing her amble past the Veloso bar, on her way to Ipanema Beach. He grew so enraptured that he told de Moraes they had to write a song.

De Moraes waited three days to see Pinheiro. And when he did, he agreed with his friend. So, they wrote a song and sold it. The song flopped in Brazil. But 5,000 miles north, its soothing samba rhythms sent American hearts sailing. In 1964, it won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Even more than the Academy Award-winning film "Black Orpheus," the song came to epitomize Brazil, at least in the American mind, says Joseph Page, a law professor at Georgetown University, who has written extensively about Brazil.

"It was kind of Brazil growing up," Page said of the song. "It was no longer samba, a national thing. It was cool. It was sophisticated. It was the first song that universalized Brazilian music."

Until 1965, no one knew whom Jobim and de Moraes had written about. Angered by the torrent of women claiming to be "The Girl," de Moraes wrote a magazine article explaining how Pinheiro had mesmerized him and Jobim. He called her a "flower and mermaid, full of light and grace."

Pinheiro's life would never be the same. Countries invited her to visit. Eventually, she started acting and appeared in three soap operas. She has hosted four talk shows. She made commercials.

She also ran a modeling agency for 18 years, and she oversees the Girl From Ipanema beauty pageant. She has written a memoir and currently writes a column for community newspapers. She also acts in a weekly comedy show.

And she has managed to raise four children and stay married to the same man--a Sao Paulo businessman--for four decades.

Pinheiro still delights in her role as The Girl. On a plane recently, "a lady came over and sat next to me, and she said, 'I can't believe it! I'm sitting next to a myth!' "

The myth seems to grow with each year. A movie was made of her life (she didn't like it). There's a rock band called Girl From Ipanema. Next year, there reportedly will be a soap opera of the same name. The building where Pinheiro grew up is now named in her honor. And the songwriters' old haunt, the Veloso, is now called the Girl From Ipanema bar. It's on Vinicius de Moraes Street.

Pinheiro tries to keep up with the myth. She works out at least three times a week. Her once-brilliant brown hair is now blond, to match Brazil's modern standard of beauty. She wears wraparound sunglasses, pastel colors and platform shoes.

There are days, though, when Pinheiro says she longs to shed her legendary status. Those are the days when she goes to the beach and feels self-conscious because people notice that she is no longer 19.

"People want us to be always young," she said. "I know people look and they make comparisons to when I was younger. And that makes me a little sad. Because you realize that time goes by."

"The Girl From Ipanema"

Tall and tan and young and lovely

The girl from Ipanema goes walking

And when she passes

Each one she passes goes ahhh

When she walks she's like a samba

That swings so cool and sways so gently

That when she passes

Each one she passes goes ahhh

Oh, but he watches so sadly

How can he tell her he loves her

Yes he would give his heart gladly

But each day when she walks to the sea

She looks straight ahead not at he

Tall and tan and young and lovely

The Girl from Ipanema goes walking

And when she passes he smiles

But she doesn't see

CAPTION: Helo Pinheiro, almost 60, became the inspiration for the Brazilian song after she was seen on the beach as a teen.