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Vicente Fernández, iconic Mexican singer who elevated mariachi music, has died at 81

Vicente Fernández dies at 81
Vicente Fernández dies at 81 00:22

Vicente Fernández, the iconic Mexican singer, actor and film producer whose mighty baritone voice helped elevate mariachi music to an art form, died early Sunday morning at a hospital in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was 81 years old. 

According to statements posted by his medical team on his official Instagram account, the artist known as "the king" of ranchera music had been in and out of the intensive care unit since early August, after suffering a serious fall in his ranch and developing pneumonia. The cause of his death has not been revealed.

During a career that spanned over half a century, Fernández became the rightful heir of popular Mexican folk music and the legendary composers and performers that fill its ranks. His voice was the soundtrack to weddings, funerals, and every memorable occasion in between. Generations celebrated life and love while Vicente Fernández sang in the background.

Fernández started his musical journey singing for tips in the streets of the mariachi capital of the world, the city of Guadalajara in western Mexico. He went on to star in over two dozen movies and recorded over 50 albums with tens of millions of copies sold, the latest one in 2018 called "More Romantic Than Ever." His live performances were a showcase for Mexican popular culture and Mexican national identity. Dressed in his characteristic traje charro, Fernández sang for hours in sports arenas, concert halls, nightclubs, and the occasional "Palenque" to euphoric audiences singing along his every tune.  

VICENTE FERNANDEZ
 Vicente Fernandez performs at a free concert during Valentine's Day in Mexico City's on Feb. 14, 2009. The Mexican singer died Sunday at 81 years of age in Guadalajara, Mexico, his family announced in a statement. Claudio Cruz / AP

He's one of Billboard's Greatest Latin Artists of All Time with 15 albums, including six that made it to Number 1 on the top 10 of Billboard's top Latin Albums chart, more than any other regional Mexican act. He placed 61 songs on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart, including 20 top 10 hits. That success catapulted his popularity beyond Mexico and Latin America. "Chente" as he was popularly known to fans, was awarded three Grammys and nine Latin Grammys.

To millions of Mexicans living in the U.S., Fernández is as legendary a figure as Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra. Hits like Volver and El Rey became anthems that connected them to the family, the traditions and the country left behind. For them and for people around the world Fernández was as recognizably Mexican as tequila. In 1998, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1963, Fernández married María del Refugio Abarca Villaseñor. They had four children: Gerardo, Alejandra, Vicente Jr. and Alejandro Fernández , who also became a popular singer in Mexico. No plans have been announced for his funeral yet.

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