La Musica Lives On
El Divo de Juarez - Legendary and Iconic Mexican Singer Dies at 66
By Maria Lopez-Bernstein
The Latin Elvis has left the building.
Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez, the legendary and iconic Mexican singer-songwriter-producer took the stage name Juan Gabriel and soared.
How big was his star? The multi-award winner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and leaves behind a rich legacy of music that influenced generations of artists in Latin music and beyond. His music was multidimensional. He reigned with mariachi music. His woeful ballads are undeniably among the best. He dabbled in disco and his Latin pop and rock songs engaged younger listeners. Many of his hits are Latin American classics. His flamboyant stage presence earned him the knickname "El Divo de Juárez" (The Diva of Juárez).
With sales of more than 100 million albums, Gabriel was Mexico's top selling artist. His album, Recuerdos, Vol. II, sold over 8 million copies and holds the distinction of being the best selling album of all time in Mexico. He wrote his first song at age 13 and during his career, released some 1,800 songs - more than any other Latin artist. He charted 31 songs on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs - more than any other artist in the Hot Latin Albums category. His latest album, Vestido de Etiqueta: Por Educardo Magallanes will be No. 1 this week on Billboard's Top Latin Albums for a second week. In fact, in the past 18 months, this is the fifth time he's peaked at the No. 1 spot. His greatest hit, "Querida" (Dear) topped Mexico's charts for an entire year, becoming one of the most famous Latin Pop songs in recorded history.
Like Prince, Gabriel was unafraid of writing hit songs for other artists and discovering new talent. And like Prince, he successfully fought for the copyrights to his songs. A-listers who benefited from Gabriel's songwriting skills include superstar actress-top model-singer Lucía Méndez, who owes her musical success to Gabriel when in 1975, he handed her a song to console her (after a Hollywood-style romantic breakup). The song was a hit, making her an overnight sensation and turning her first album platinum. Superstars Jose Jose, Mana, Vicente Fernández, Paul Anka, and Isabel Pantoja, who sang "Asi Fue" (That's How It Was) - one of the most heartbreaking pop songs ever written by the artist, also benefited from his musical talent. Gabriel collaborated with such artists as Marc Anthony, Ana Gabriel, Juanes, Joan Sebastian, Rocío Dúrcal, Marco Antonio Solís, Natalia Jiménez, Joy, Laura Pausini, and Fifth Harmony, to name a few.
Like Michael Jackson, he was mysterious. Amid rumors of his sexual orientation, he fathered four children with a woman whose identity he's never publicly offered other than to say she's his best friend. He never married.
The youngest of 10 children born to peasants, Gabriel lost his father before he was born. The severe poverty his family experienced led Gabriel to do charitable work, performing 10-12 benefit concerts for his favorite children's homes. He habitually posed for pictures with his fans and forwarded the proceeds from the photo-ops to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, Gabriel founded Semjase, a house for orphaned and underserved children in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where in his youth, he lived and sold tortillas to help support his family. He also donated musical instruments to a music school in the town he was born in.
In 1988, Gabriel was devastated when his mother died. His tribute song to her, "Amor Eterno" (Eternal Love) became a monster hit and was covered by more than a dozen top artists.
Juan Gabriel died of a heart attack in the morning hours of August 28, 2016 in his Santa Monica, California home, after performing a concert the night before in Los Angeles at The Forum. He was 66. El Divo de Juárez is gone, but his music lives on.