Vicente Fernández, Mexican Music Legend, Dies at 81

Photo: Getty Images for LARAS

Vicente Fernández, the Grammy-winning ranchera legend, died on Sunday at a hospital in Guadalajara, Mexico. Fernández was hospitalized after suffering a fall in August and was subsequently diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder. He was 81.

Known as El Rey, the king of Mexican ranchera music, Fernández sold more than 65 million albums worldwide and recorded dozens of albums. Widely known for his hits “Volver, Volver,” “Por Tu Maldito Amor,” and “El Rey,” he earned three Grammys and eight Latin Grammys throughout his decades-long career, performing lovelorn ballads and anthemic folk songs in the traditional ranchera style. “I feel I have a responsibility to carry on Mexican folklore and culture, and that’s my obligation to my audience, to be that messenger,” Fernández told the Dallas Morning News in 1994.

Born and raised in Guadalajara, Fernández began his career in 1966, when he was signed to Mexico’s CBS Records. He went on to appear in nearly 40 films, often singing while on horseback, and provided the theme songs to several telenovelas. Fernández was also a legendary live performer, and continued touring late into his 70s, retiring in 2016 after a concert at Mexico City’s Azteca stadium. Known for his trademark baritone, distinctive charro suit and sombrero, Fernández received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998. Mourners gathered at Fernández’s star in Hollywood following the news of his passing on Sunday, and Telemundo interrupted its annual broadcast of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrations to announce his death. “He was singing not just to us but to our uncles, our parents, and our grandmothers as well,” Jose Anguiano, a professor in popular music, told NPR on Sunday. “So there’s this immense sense of loss for what he means to the culture.”

Vicente Fernández, Mexican Music Legend, Dies at 81