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‘No, that can’t be true': Angelenos react to the death of Mexican crooner Juan Gabriel

Juan Gabriel fans mourn the popular Mexican singer’s passing
Singer Juan Gabriel performs during the 10th annual Latin Grammy Awards on Nov. 5, 2009, in Las Vegas.
(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

At a plaza off Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, Joanna Franco, 25, swayed Sunday evening to the sound of banda music with her fiancé.

Earlier, Franco was leaving a nearby museum when an employee asked whether she had heard that popular Mexican singer Juan Gabriel had died.

“I said, ‘No, that can’t be true,’” she recounted later Sunday. Franco checked her phone and noticed a couple of stories on his passing, "and that’s when I knew.”

“He’s a big deal,” she said. “If you live in a Mexican family, you know about Juan Gabriel. He’s a staple. One of the legends.”

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A child of the 90s, Franco grew up listening to Juan Gabriel — part of a wave of Mexican male pop artists whose music, Franco said, tugged at the heart strings of girls like her.

He was “a very pretty man,” with a great voice and a “cult following,” Franco said.

“My mom would listen to his music while she was cleaning … and so it was the music I grew up with when I had chores to do around the house,” she said.

The South Bay resident called Juan Gabriel’s death “upsetting” — and a sign she’s getting older. Juan Gabriel was 66.

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“I see these artists going away, and it’s like saying goodbye to the end of an era,” she said. “A childhood of running around, having his music in the background of all your family parities — it’s all gone.”

Franco’s mom was watching TV news reports about Juan Gabriel’s death earlier Sunday when the mother and daughter talked about it by phone.

Asked whether her mother would be OK, Franco said, “maybe not today, but maybe tomorrow.”

Candy Solis, a 28-year-old dental assistant living in East L.A., said Juan Gabriel was a phenomenal composer whose energetic style spurred many imitators among Mexican singers.

“What can I say? He was just the best,” Solis said. “He would dance and perform and spin around.... You really felt the lyrics.”

Frank Marez, who was visiting Los Angeles from Arroyo Grande, Calif., for a Dodgers game, said Juan Gabriel’s music was familiar to him growing up.

“Like any big voice from Mexico, they all had their own sound,” he said as he sat in the plaza near Olvera Street. “You knew a Juan Gabriel song when you heard it.”

For Mexican Americans, “he represented a lot of pride, a lot of talent,” Marez said. “It’s hard when one of yours is gone.”

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Adriana Peña, a Burbank homemaker, said Juan Gabriel was the first musician she ever saw in concert, at the age of 7 or 8 alongside her mother. She remembers being in awe of the flamboyant singer.

“He was very humble — but he put on a great show,” she said. “He was like the Michael Jackson of Mexico.”

When she heard that he had passed away, she thought it must have been a hoax. Her mother is still a huge fan, she said, and her aunt had tickets to see him in Texas next month.

“For the Mexican community, it’s like Michael Jackson dying all over again,” she said.

Veronica Hernandez, who lives in Lynwood, said Juan Gabriel’s music was woven into her childhood.

“If you’re Mexican, you know who Juan Gabriel is,” she said.

Hernandez recalled ruefully thatJuan Gabriel’s last performance was at the Forum in Inglewood on Friday. She didn’t go — but wished she had.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

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matt.stevens@latimes.com

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