Juan Gabriel, Latin American music icon and Mexico's bestselling artist of all time, died of natural causes Sunday morning at his home in Santa Monica, a day after the Mexican singer performed at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Gabriel was 66.
"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."
Gabriel was scheduled to perform in El Paso, Texas Sunday night as part of a fall U.S. tour, but that concert was canceled even before news of Gabriel's death. The singer, who dealt with health problems over the past few years, suffered a fatal heart attack, the BBC reports.
Gabriel's son Ivan Aguilera 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."
Born Alberto Aguilera Valdez in Parácuaro, Michoacán in 1950, Gabriel embodied the "rags to riches" story; as the youngest of 10 children, his mother left him at an orphanage at the age of four, an event Gabriel stated was his earliest memory. In his youth, Gabriel sang music he concocted in his head while selling tortillas on the street.
Gabriel would release his first hit song, "No Tengo Dinero," at the age of 21. What followed were decades of chart-topping success for the singer, who traversed a diverse array of genres – rock, Mariachi, disco, pop – on his way toward becoming the bestselling artist in Mexico's history.
Gabriel's 1984 LP Recuerdos, Vol. II remains Mexico's bestselling album ever with 8 million copies. The LP contained arguably Gabriel's biggest hit, the ballad "Querida," a song with such resonance that it spent a year atop the Mexican song charts, The Associated Press reports.
Known for his coiffed pompadour, glittery outfits and energetic stage presence, Gabriel would become Mexico's most famous musical artist, a talent who, despite living decades in the U.S., shunned the commercial appeal of America and English language recordings to remain true to his roots.
"American music has infiltrated the entire world enough as it is," Gabriel told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. "Mexican music must be defended with vigilance… My thoughts, my feelings, my spirit, they are all in Spanish."
"A voice and talent that represented Mexico," Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote of Gabriel on Twitter. "His music is a legacy for the world."
Over his career, Gabriel penned over 1,500 songs, many of which became hits for other artists like Lucha Villa and Rocio Durcal. Gabriel, a six-time Grammy nominee, was inducted into the Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1996 and given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009.
Mexicans mourned Gabriel's death Sunday, with local radio stations and television stations changing their programming to pay tribute to Gabriel.
Earlier this year, Gabriel recorded a version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" for Quiero Creedence, a Latin American tribute album to CCR.
In a statement, John Fogerty wrote, "My heart is heavy and very sad today for Juan Gabriel has passed away. Juan is a legend in the world of Latin Music and someone that I truly admire. He has written and recorded hundreds of beautiful songs and recently had recorded a wonderful version of my song 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain' that I love very much. We had talked about performing this song together and I was looking forward to a new friendship with this amazingly talented man."