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Joan Sebastian, Mexican music icon, dies at 64

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Singer Joan Sebastian receives Album of the Year, Ranchero/Mariachi at the Billboard Mexican Music Awards (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Singer Joan Sebastian receives Album of the Year, Ranchero/Mariachi at the Billboard Mexican Music Awards (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Mexican singer Joan Sebastian, a beloved performer on the airwaves and in Mexican rodeos, died Monday at 64, son Jose Manuel Figueroa told CNN en Español.

The composer was a music icon in Mexico and abroad. He recorded 37 albums and collaborated with numerous performers of Mexican folk music throughout his career.

He amassed many awards, including four Grammys and seven Latin Grammys. He was inducted into the Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Sebastian was born Jose Manuel Figueroa on April 8, 1951, in Juliantla, Guerrero state. When he was 8 and attending boarding school in Guanajuato, he began to show a creative side in music, but it was not until 14 that he realized it was his true calling.

He wrote several music pieces while at seminary in Cuernavaca. But eager to fulfill his dream of a musical career, Sebastian headed north to Mexico City at 17.

After knocking on several doors, he got a chance at Capitol Records. His first album with Capitol produced the hit song “Descartada” (“Discarded”) under his real name, Figueroa.

In the wake of the album’s success, Sebastian traveled to Tijuana, Baja California state, and later to Los Angeles, where he became an actor. He then jumped to Chicago, where several of his songs were played on the radio.

In 1977, he wanted use the stage name “Juan Sebastian.” According to Billboard, he liked the meaning of the name, with Juan meaning “free” and Sebastian meaning “lover.” His sister, a numerology expert, persuaded him to change the first name to Joan, according to Billboard.

Sebastian boosted his popularity internationally with the release of “El Camino del Amor,” a hit song that played everywhere from the United States to South America.

Sebastian’s love for the country and for animals inspired him to sing in “jaripeos,” or Mexican rodeos. The audience grew fond of watching him perform in the rodeos, and he became known as El Rey del Jaripeo, the Rodeo King, even showcasing his own horses.

His music career became unstoppable; his most iconic songs, such as “Secreto de Amor,” “Veinticinco Rosas” and “Tatuajes,” became virtual hymns.

Joan Sebastian’s life was marked on many occasions by tragedy and hardships.

Son Trigo Figueroa, one of his eight children, was killed in 2006 during one of his father’s performances in Texas. Four years later, another son died in Cuernavaca after a scuffle outside a nightclub.

Also known as the “Huracan del Sur,” or Hurricane of the South, Sebastian was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1999. He fought it off twice, but the disease returned in 2012, after which he sought treatment in the United States.

Last year, Sebastian announced his retirement from rodeos — the place where he forged his career, and the place he will be remembered.