Culture

Who was Juan Gabriel and why was he such a big deal?

The Mexican singer died Sunday of a heart attack at age 66, leaving behind millions of heartbroken fans in Latin America and the U.S.
29 Ago 2016 – 10:41 PM EDT

The name Juan Gabriel became a trending topic in social media on Sunday after the famous Mexican singer passed away at age 66, leaving Latin Americans and U.S. Latinos mourning the loss of an icon.

Who was this artist and why is he so important to Latinos?

  • Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez and known by his stage name Juan Gabriel, this prolific singer-songwriter wrote some 1,800 songs and recorded with 800 artists in seven languages.

The life of Juan Gabriel

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  • Juan Gabriel rose to fame after launching his first album in 1971. Releasing 35 albums over the course of his 45-year career, he became beloved by multiple generations of fans in Latin America, Spain and the United States. His genres varied widely, from mariachi to salsa to disco.
  • He was an icon in Latin America, but especially in Mexico, where his songs became part of Mexican pop culture and helped inspire modern Mexican regional music. After Juan Gabriel's death, the president of Mexico tweeted his condolences.
  • Singing of love, heartbreak and romance, Juan Gabriel moved his fans to tears during his notoriously long concerts of up to three hours long.

Juan Gabriel, el cantante que nunca renunció al glamur

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  • A gay icon known for his flamboyant style and love of sequins, he was nicknamed the "Divo of Juárez." However, Juan Gabriel was tight-lipped about his personal life and refused to publicly discuss his sexuality. When he was asked point blank on Univision if he was gay, he famously said “Lo que se ve no se pregunta” (“Don't ask about something that is obvious”).
  • The singer's personal rags to riches story resonated among his many fans. His parents were poor farmers in Michoacán state, and his father was sent to a mental institution. His mother moved the family to the border city of Ciudad Juárez to work as a maid and sent Juan Gabriel to an orphanage as a child. He left school in fifth grade and was homeless for a time while he tried to kickstart his musical career.
  • Juan Gabriel also had an inspiring redemption story full of drama: he was accused of robbery and went to prison as a teenager, but the prison director helped secure his freedom. At the height of his career, he was accused of tax evasion in the United States and Mexico.
  • He was an inspiration to generations of Latin American performers. Juanes called him "our Elvis" and Marc Anthony said Juan Gabriel's music changed his life.
  • Juan Gabriel was known as a staunch supporter of immigrant rights and immigration reform, backing large-scale immigration protests in 2006.
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