Death of singer Juan Gabriel causes outpouring of grief in Mexico

Juan Gabriel was more than just a singer and songwriter for the hundreds of fans who thronged Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi to wish him farewell Monday.

He was a legend, an artist who marked an era in people's lives. Every major Mexican newspaper had news of his Sunday death on its front page, along with large photos of his flamboyant costumes.

"We work nights. When I got up, I heard people singing Juan Gabriel songs in the streets," said mariachi musician Alvaro Hurtado, who was busy playing favorites like "Amor Eterno" ("Eternal Love") for clients who were drawn to Garibaldi to mark the singer's death at age 66. The plaza is the national shrine to mariachi music.

"I am grateful to him, more than anything else, for his songs," Hurtado said. "He was a great person, and more than anything else he gave work to me and my fellow mariachis."

The statue of Juan Gabriel in Garibaldi was adorned with flowers and candles. Those standing around it were not only Mexicans; it seemed the world was united by his death.

One of them Marshall Gourley, a tourist from Denver, Colorado, who said that "it would be a mortal sin to be in Mexico and not come to Plaza Garibaldi to remember him."

"His music is universal, and eternal. His music has been a part of all of us since the early '70s," said Gourley, who noted "Amor Eterno" was played at his mother's funeral.

In Ciudad Juárez, the border city where Juan Gabriel grew up, dozens of people gathered outside a house he owned to place flowers and candles and sing his songs.

Juan Gabriel was Mexico's leading singer-songwriter and top-selling artist. His bouncy mariachi tunes and ballads about love and heartbreak became hymns throughout Latin America and Spain as well as with Spanish speakers in the United States.

He brought fans to tears with songs, including top hits such as "Hasta Que Te Conocí" ("Until I Met You"). "Querida" ("My Love") topped Mexico's charts for an entire year.

In California, John Kades of the Los Angeles coroner's office said the cause of death had not yet been officially determined, but that due to Juan Gabriel's medical history, no autopsy would be required.

Neither the singer's family nor representatives announced funeral plans.

The singer's agent, Arturo de la Mora, said Juan Gabriel died "peacefully" at his home in Santa Monica, California, without giving further details.

Juan Gabriel, whose real name was Alberto Aguilera Valadez, liked to wear jackets covered in sequins or dress in shiny silk outfits of hot pink, turquoise blue or canary yellow.

He performed to packed auditoriums, including New York's Madison Square Garden and the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. His last concert was Friday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California. He had been scheduled to perform Sunday in El Paso, Texas.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said through his official Twitter account: "I regret the death of Juan Gabriel, one of the great musical icons of our country. My condolences to his relatives and friends."

The singer, who was born Jan. 7, 1950, wrote his first song at age 13 and went on to compose more than 1,500.

The youngest of 10 children, he rose from rags to riches. He was born in the western state of Michoacán. His father, Gabriel Aguilera, was a farmer and his mother, Victoria Valadez, a housewife. The family lost contact with his father after he was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Mexico City when Juan Gabriel was still a baby. Unable to support her children, his mother moved the family to the border city of Ciudad Juárez, where she worked as a maid.

Unable to care for him, she sent him to an orphanage.

Juan Gabriel said his mother was one of the people he most loved in his life even though he spent most of his childhood away from her.

He signed his first record contract in 1971 and had his first big hit with "No Tengo Dinero" ("I Don't Have Money"), according to his biography by Mexico's Society of Music Authors and Composers.

Juan Gabriel rarely gave interviews. When he did, he avoided talking about his private life.

Although his former personal secretary, Joaquín Muñoz, described their homosexual relationship in a book, "Juan Gabriel and Me," the singer neither acknowledged nor denied being gay. His fans were surprised when, years later, it became known that he had fathered four children with his friend Laura Salas.

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