To the great majority of Mexicans, singer and composer Juan Gabriel’s death came as a surprise as he just dropped dead at age 66 last Sunday in Santa Monica, California. Those close to him say that the night before his death, he performed as usual at a local nightclub and that even two hours before his heart attack he looked like he was in fine health. His death was natural, no drugs involved, no foul play. His heart and voice just stopped at 11:43 a.m. according to the Santa Monica Forensic Office.
The news spread like wildfire Sunday and by mid-afternoon every radio and television news program was “breaking” the news. And for the next two days he’s been the “trending topic” as people remember him either because he was immensely popular — and immensely rich after selling 150 million copies of his over 200 songs — or because he never admitted or denied being gay — “Why ask what’s obvious? I’m not,” he would say to reporters with an extravagant gesture.
What is more surprising is the reaction from politicians sending condolences to his relatives. Most notable are two who have been at each other’s throats for years, namely Barack Obama of the United States and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.
“For 40 years, Juan Gabriel delivered his beloved Mexican music to millions, transcending borders and generations,” said Obama on Monday. In his case, I wonder how much is political courtesy to Latinos in the United States, and if he really listened to Juan Gabriel’s music, as the artist did not sing in English.
Maduro, on the other hand, published a twit in which he appears with photos next to Juan Gabriel at the Venezuela presidential Miraflores Palace in Caracas. Maduro described the composer as “an extraordinary artist and human being.”
Well, at least these two presidents agree on something.
In Mexico, nobody can forget Juan Gabriel’s incursion into politics, in particular because he was an outspoken member of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). In fact, he sent an e-mail to President Peña Nieto, made public by former manager Silvia Urquidi, saying that he was from the Michoacán state by birth, from Ciudad Juárez by heart, and that his greatest love was Mexico and his political party the PRI, which he would never desert.
Reality was that Juan Gabriel was aloof and far away from politics except during the 2000 election in which he wrote a not-so-popular jingle favoring PRI presidential candidate Francisco Labastida Ochoa.
Written in Spanish, the jingle says “Neither Temo nor Chente, Francisco is going to be president. It won’t be the PRD or the PAN; it will be the PRI who’s going to win.”
Just for clarification, “Temo” was Cuahtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and “Chente” was Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) who eventually won the election.
All of the politicians above have already twitted their sadness regarding the death of the “Divo of Juárez.”
2018 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador also wrote in his twitter account that “when I was the head of (Mexico City’s) government, I met Juan Gabriel; he sang ’till dawn at the Zócalo; he was of the people, a liberal and a nationalist. RIP.”
For that matter, just about every politician in Mexico has expressed sorrow regardint the death of “El Divo” (notice that Juan Gabriel was not a diva, but a divo) and Culture Secretary Rafael Tovar y de Teresa has offered the Palacio de Bellas Artes as the place where millions of admirers can mourn and bid farewell to a beloved and inspirational man. This has not been confirmed but it’d seem only natural.
In a nation politically splintered, Juan Gabriel never left his beloved PRI and proof of this is the e-mail he left for Peña Nieto.
But as a pundit put it regarding Juan Gabriel’s political PRI affiliation, “nobody’s perfect.”