Mexican Singer and Icon Juan Gabriel Dies of Heart Attack

Juan Gabriel performing at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. on Sept. 26, 2014. / Photo by Julio Enriquez / Flickr Commons

Juan Gabriel performing at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. on Sept. 26, 2014. / Photo by Julio Enriquez / Flickr Commons

Any mariachi ensemble worth its performance fee knows how to play “Amor Eterno,” one of the most famous ballads in the history of Mexico, written by Mexican singer and composer Juan Gabriel, who died of a heart attack Sunday at his Los Angeles home.

The Mexican icon — whose music has been covered by everyone from ranchera and pop singers to rock stars to orchestras — was remembered by fans in Southern California this week as Spanish-language TV channels and radio stations in the U.S. broke scheduled programming to air nonstop footage and audio recordings of the powerful singer and performer.

In an official statement released by Gabriel’s family, his son Ivan Aguilera said, “My father’s untimely passing is a tragic loss for all of us, his family, colleagues, and fans alike. We know that our father will miss entertaining his countless fans, who brought him tremendous joy in life.”

The icon, also known as “JuanGa” or “ El Divo de Juarez,” played a sold-out show for his “Mexxico es Todo” (“Mexxico is Everything”) tour at The Forum in Inglewood two days prior his death. A makeshift memorial of flowers and remembrances is piling up at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

As a performer, Gabriel’s voice was demanding and melancholy and his lyrics were universal to anyone who ever lost a love. He has been compared to Morrissey for his heartfelt lyrics, to the late Prince for his musical and lyrical abilities, and to Pavarotti for his extravagance and femininity.

With over 100 million records sold worldwide and a discography of over 1800 songs, Gabriel’s music achieved massive radio play during his lifetime. Over the years, his songs were covered by other iconic artists such as Vicente Fernandez, Ana Gabriel and Jose Jose.

“[Gabriel] was a voice and talent that represented Mexico. May he rest in peace,” Mexican President Peña Nieto tweeted Sunday.

President Barack Obama also took to Twitter to pay his tribute to the singer, posting: “His spirit will live on…in the hearts of the fans who love him.”

Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez on Jan. 7, 1950, Gabriel moved with his mother from Michoacan to Juarez after his father was institutionalized in an insane asylum. He was the youngest of ten children and spent most of his childhood in orphanage after his mother could not afford to raise him. He started writing songs as early as 13-years old and sang at bars and sold items on the streets to survive. He traveled three times to Mexico City in his teens before finally landing a record deal in 1970.

In 1971, he released his first album as Juan Gabriel, a name he chose in homage to both Juan Contreras, his musical mentor, and his father, Gabriel Aguilera. The album contained his first hit, “No Tengo Dinero,” “I have no Money.”

Perhaps Gabriel’s most famous song, “Amor Eterno,” was written for his mother who passed in 1988. Since then, the emotional lyrics have helped generations of Latinos cope with lost loved ones.

Como quisiera, ay, que tú vivieras/ Que tus ojitos jamás se hubieran cerrado nunca/Y estar mirándolos/ Amor eterno, e inolvidable/ Tarde o temprano estaré contigo…

How I wish that you lived/ That your little eyes never had closed/ And to be looking at them. Love eternal and unforgettable/ Sooner or later I will be with you…

Gabriel’s compositions crossed cultural and linguistic boundaries and he became a symbol to the gay community because of his flamboyant wardrobe and expressions, although he never publicly admitted to being gay.

Gabriel was the father of four children and never married. He supported and donated to various children’s homes.