José José, Mexican Crooner Crowned ‘Prince of Song,’ Dies at 71


MEXICO CITY — José José, the Mexican crooner who moved audiences to tears with melancholic love ballads and was known as the “Prince of Song,” has died at the age of 71.

The Mexican artists’ association ANDI confirmed the death in a Twitter post on Saturday. Multiple media outlets said Mr. José had died of pancreatic cancer, first diagnosed in 2017, at a hospital in South Florida.

José José, whose real name was José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz, climbed to the top of the Latin charts in the 1970s with slow songs like “El Triste” (“The Sad Man”) and “Amar y Querer” (“Love and Want”). The power of his voice and his ability to sing technically difficult tunes in a wide register made him a treasured cultural figure in Latin America.

José José’s music also became popular in Japan, Russia and other countries. His voice, a combination of baritone and lyric tenor, captivated audiences while his dress style of suits accented with bow ties, pocket handkerchiefs and silk scarves was copied at nightclubs across Latin America.

“He squeezed our hearts with his unmistakable voice and left an indelible mark on the world of music,” Latin music star Gloria Estefan said on Twitter.

José José was born to a family of musicians on Feb. 17, 1948, in Mexico City. His mother, Margarita Ortiz Pensado, was a concert pianist, his father a tenor in the National Opera of Mexico. The singer added a second José to his artist’s name in honor of his father, who died when José José was 17. The father had abandoned the family when José José was young.

“I wanted to honor the memory of my father, who was a great opera singer and died very young, without knowledge of my success,” José José told The Associated Press in 2005. “Since I inherited his voice, this is recognition of that inheritance.”

José José got started in music singing in cafes before founding a rock group called the Heart Breakers, which launched an unsuccessful album in the mid-1960s. His solo career took off with a single called “La Nave del Olvido” or “The Ship of the Forgotten” and peaked in the 1980s with albums like “Secrets,” his best-selling collaboration with the Spanish love song composer and producer Manuel Alejandro.

José José was nominated for a Grammy multiple times but never won the prize. The Latin Recording Academy recognized him with a Musical Excellence Prize at the 2004 Latin Grammy Awards ceremony. That same year he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In March 2017, he confirmed he had pancreatic cancer in a video message to fans. He had also struggled with Lyme disease, facial paralysis, substance abuse and depression. His problems with alcohol and drugs led to the 1993 dissolution of his 18-year marriage with the model Anel Noreña, with whom he had two children: José Joel and Marisol.

He hit bottom after the separation and began sleeping in a taxi on the outskirts of Mexico City. Friends intervened and took him to an addiction treatment center in the United States. He married again in 1995, to Sarita Salazar, a Cuban-American he met in rehab. The couple had a daughter, Sara, the next year.

José José’s voice troubles made it very difficult for him to sing in his later years; for a 2008 concert with the Greek composer and pianist Yanni, it took him seven days to prepare “just to attempt to sing,” Yanni said in a video posted to Twitter. “That was an act of bravery on his part,” he added. “He fought really hard for every word, for every sound.” T

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said he was sad to hear of José José’s death. He told reporters, “He was an extraordinary singer from an era that, with his songs and his romanticism, made a lot of people from my generation cry and be happy.”

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