MIAMI (AP) — Miami, the second home to legendary Mexican crooner José José, mourned the iconic artist on Sunday by gathering several hundreds of his fans at a closed casket wake with his family.
Known as the "Prince of Song," José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz died eight days ago in Miami at age 71. The singer had been battling pancreatic cancer.
The artist's youngest daughter Sarita Sosa thanked Miamians for embracing her dad when he first arrived decades ago, saying he was brought back to life in Florida.
"May his music never die, please," she said, holding back tears. "Thank you for coming. You are our family. All of Miami, thank you."
José José rose to stardom in 1970 with his hit "El Triste" or "The Sad One," and became well-known across Latin America in the 1980s with his best-selling album "Secrets," a collaboration with Spanish composer and producer Manuel Alejandro.
But the Mexican singer struggled with substance abuse and depression. Following the 1993 separation from Mexican model Anel Noreña, he began sleeping in a taxi on the outskirts of the Mexican capital before friends intervened and took him to an addiction treatment center in the U.S.
The artist remarried in 1995 to a Cuban-American woman named Sarita Salazar, and the couple had Sarita Sosa the following year.
In a brief private ceremony broadcast by Univision before the public wake, Salazar was seen on stage next to the golden coffin, which was covered by a giant arrangement of white hydrangeas. A group of Mariachi performers dressed in white and played some of the artist's melodies such as "The Sad One" and "Pillow," and fans got up from their seats to sing along.
"He was born in Mexico, but we were lucky to have José José living here," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Some of the Miami fans even tell stories of seeing the well-dressed singer at the supermarket or local pharmacies. He "never allowed fame to change who he was," Gimenez said.
The gifted singer— a combination of baritone and lyric tenor— was revered for his wide registry and ability to sustain long notes. He charmed audiences with his elegant suits accented with bow ties, pocket handkerchiefs and silk scarves and for his romantic interpretations of ballads such as "Hawk or Dove" and "Love and Want."
José José was nominated on multiple occasions for a Grammy, but never received that accolade. The Latin Recording Academy recognized the singer with a Musical Excellence Prize at the 2004 Latin Grammy awards. That same year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
As he got older, José José's vocals began to fail him. For a 2008 concert with Greek composer and pianist Yanni, it took him seven days to prepare "just to attempt to sing," Yanni recounted.
Even as the singer's voice got scratchy, ardent followers turned out to see him as recently as 2017 for concerts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. For the public funeral, fans with Mexican, Colombian, Argentine and other Latino origins traveled from New Jersey and other cities around Florida to honor him.
Anotoria Vinas, an 80-year-old Dominican woman, said she ironed the artist's shirts when he began his career in Miami decades ago.
"I'm sad, like his song goes," the woman said as she left the wake. "It hurts to see that he left this world, and how much he suffered before he did."