Joan Sebastian, the popular Mexican award winning singer and songwriter, died last month after undergoing treatment for cancer. He was 64. Sebastian had battled bone cancer for several years and had been hospitalized while undergoing treatment. He died at his ranch in Juliantla, Guerrero.
He was born Jose Manuel Figueroa in April 1951. He took on the stage name Joan Sebastian to pay tribute to the city of San Sebastian. Many of his fans also knew him by the nickname “El Rey Del Jaripeo.” or the King of Mexican Rodeo for his love of performing his songs while riding on horseback. Over his career he created more than 35 albums and won five Grammys and seven Latin Grammy awards.
Sebastian's debut song, “The Way of Love,” helped pave his way to prominence throughout Latin America and much of the United States — especially the Rio Grande Valley. He frequently wrote of romance and heartbreak, gaining popularity with women and earning him the nickname “the poet of the people.”
Sebastian first came to the U.S. in his 20s as an undocumented immigrant, and settled in Chicago where he worked as a dishwasher and a salesman. But Sebastian never settled in the U.S. and returned to Mexico where he maintained his citizenship.
He ventured into acting in 1996 with his role in the Mexican soap opera, Tú y Yo. In that show, he appeared with his wife of the time, Maribel Guardia.The couple stayed together five years and had one son. His music was heard nightly in Mexico as the theme music to Univision telenovela Amores Con Trampa. His horse, Godfather, died just a few days before Sebastian
During Sebastian’s life, he endured losing two of his sons to violence. 27-year-old Trigo Figueroa, died as his father performed at a Lienzo Charro Plaza del Valle bullring north of Mission in 2006. Years after that fatal attack, he remained critical of local investigators, who never solved the case.
“I was not present at the time of the shooting,” Joan Sebastian said in 2010, not long after another son, Juan Sebastian, was gunned down at a bar in Cuernavaca, Morelos. “But I had him 50 minutes in my arms dying, suffering and shouting for a policeman, and none appeared. In the United States and in many places, you get flatulence from a fly and the police are there immediately. But when there is something shady, no police, no armies, no ambulances appear. That was how I was left with the frustration of my dead son and the murderer loose out there.”
Sebastian wrote hundreds of songs, typically a mix of Mexican pop, ranchera and grupera music since his career began in 1977. Sebastian also co-wrote songs with other Mexican musical icons, including Vicente and Alejandro Fernandez, Pepe Aguilar and the late Rocio Durcal.
Sebastian overcame cancer three times. He first was diagnosed in 1999 and recovered, but was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2007 and again in 2012. The disease affected his vocal chords, but never made him consider leaving the stage.
The 64-year-old singer won great admiration from fellow singers. "God gave you one of the most beautiful gifts that exist in this land, the gift of touching the hearts of people with your words and melodies with your smile and your life example," said Thalia, Mexican actress and singer in an Instagram post. "You go on ahead of us my dear friend."