SANTA MONICA—Latin America music icon Juan Gabriel died of natural causes at his Santa Monica, California, home on Sunday, August 28, according to Los Angeles County Coroner Spokeswoman Selena Barros. Juan Gabriel whose real name is Alberto Aguilera Valadez, was born in 1950 in Parácuaro, Michoacán. He is the youngest of 10 children. His mother left him at an orphanage when he was four years old. During his youth, he sang music he concocted while he sold tortillas on the street.
Gabriel performed at The Forum in Los Angeles on August 26. Gabriel was Mexico’s leading singer-songwriter and top selling artist. He has sold 100 million albums. He was 66 years old.
“Alberto Aguilera Valadez ‘Juan Gabriel’ passed away suddenly earlier today as has been widely reported,” the singer’s family said in a statement Sunday. “Juan Gabriel was a giant in the music industry and is as popular now as ever. As importantly, Juan Gabriel was a beloved father and grandfather. He is survived by his sons and grandchildren.”
Juan Gabriel wrote many songs for other artists. He appeared in the 1976 Mexican film,”Nobleza Ranchera,” and four other movies.
A statement was released on his website which read: “The creator of Juan Gabriel — songwriter, performer, family man, philanthropist and human being, known as Alberto Aguilera Valadez—today, he ended his time here and graduated from this life. He has gone to become part of eternity and leaves us his legacy through Juan Gabriel, a character he created with the music he sang and performed across this world. Juan Gabriel hasn’t died, as Alberto would say, ‘As long as someone exists who sings my songs, Juan Gabriel will live.’”
He wrote many ballads that dealt with love and heartbreak. His bouncy mariachi tunes were known throughout Latin America, Spain and with Spanish speakers in the United States.
Gabriel was a flamboyant performer who wore jackets covered in sequins or dress in shiny silk outfits in hot pink, turquoise blue or canary yellow. He was supposed to perform in El Paso, Texas on Sunday night for a fall U.S. tour, but it was canceled prior to his death. The BBC reports that he has health problems over the years and suffered a fatal heart attack. Throughout his career, Gabriel was nominated a plethora of Grammys and was inducted into Billboard’s Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a tweet: “We lament the death of Juan Gabriel, one of the biggest musical icons of our country. My condolences to his family and friends.”
He added, “A voice and a talent that represented Mexico. His music is a legacy to the world. He left us too soon. May he rest in peace.”
He won many awards during his career such as ASCAP Songwriter of the Year in 1995, Latin Recording Academy’s Person of the Year in 2009, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that same year. Juan Gabriel who is also known as “El Divo de Juarez” became Mexico’s most famous musical artist. He wrote his first song at 13 and has composed over 1,500 songs in his career.
“There are no rules when I compose songs,” he said, according to a biography published by Mexico’s Society of Music Authors and Composers. “There are times when I’m really happy and I write something really sad, and vice versa.”
His website lists more than 60 albums, with the first, “El Alma Joven,” produced in 1971. His classic hits include “Querida,” “Porqué me haces llorar?” “El Noa Noa” and “Hasta que te conocí.”
Juan Gabriel’s son Ivan Aguilera spoke to Rolling Stone and added, “My father’s untimely passing is a tragic loss for all of us, his family, colleagues, and fans alike. We give heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of condolences we have received from around the world including from President Enrique Pena Nieto. We know that our father will miss entertaining his countless fans, who brought him tremendous joy in life.”
Condolences for Gabriel were shared from his fans on social media. Gabriel was remembered for his impact. “We lost our Prince, our Bowie, our Elton John. Juan Gabriel broke stereotypes in our community for decades,” tweeted Mariana Atencio, a news anchor on Fusion and Univison.