The remains of Mexico’s late Latin music legend Juan Gabriel arrive in a hearse at the Palace of Fine Arts for fans to pay tribute to the fans, in Mexico City. — AP/AFP photos The remains of Mexico’s late Latin music legend Juan Gabriel arrive in a hearse at the Palace of Fine Arts for fans to pay tribute to the fans, in Mexico City. — AP/AFP photos

Fans of Mexico's late Latin music legend Juan Gabriel sang and wiped away tears on Monday as they filed past his ashes while mariachis played his hits in the capital's ornate Fine Arts Palace. His son, Ivan Aguilar, placed the polished wood urn containing the star's ashes on a lectern above a red carpet before men, women and children walked by to bid farewell.

A mariachi band wearing sombreros and blue charro suits played as throngs took photos with their phones, made signs of the cross and dried their eyes with tissues. Many held images of the superstar. Thousands braved the rain outside Mexico City's domed cultural center to get a last chance to say goodbye a week after he died of a heart attack at age 66. "I want to say goodbye from up close," said Lucia Orozco, a 50-year-old shopkeeper who waited for hours to see the urn. "I can't believe he died. He was a divine, noble being," she said before joining the massive line outside the palace.

Fans danced and sang "Amor Eterno" ("Eternal Love") and other favorites outside the palace. Bands and famous musicians performed his songs inside the palace and on a stage outside. Drivers in the mega-city stopped to take photos as a hearse carrying his ashes crossed the capital under police escort after arriving from Ciudad Juarez, the northern border city where he grew up.

The singer known as the "Divo of Juarez," who touched millions with wrenching ballads of love and loneliness, died on August 28 at his home in Santa Monica, California during a break in his latest tour. An old-school idol some dubbed Mexico's Elvis Presley, Gabriel wrote hit songs, sold tens of millions of records and received six Grammy nominations, winning admirers worldwide. His hits included "No Tengo Dinero" ("I Have No Money"), "Hasta Que Te Conoci" (Until I Met You) and "Amor Eterno." The ashes of "Juanga," whose real name was Alberto Aguilera Valadez, were taken to Ciudad Juarez over the weekend, where tens of thousands paid homage to him.

'My idol is gone'

Paty Berumen, a 39-year-old mother of six who works as a clown in El Paso, Texas, traveled to Mexico City last week to say goodbye to her idol. "I don't just like Juanga, I love him," she said outside the Fine Arts palace. "That's why I came here. I didn't warn my family because they wouldn't have let me come here. I've slept here, in the street, facing rain, heat and cold. But it's worth it." Berumen and eight other fans placed candles, flowers and images of Gabriel in an improvised altar outside the palace. Jesus Badillo, a 71-year-old retiree smartly dressed with a tie, arrived before sunrise to be first in line at the palace.

"It hurts a lot," he said, choking back tears. "My idol is gone." "My anthem is 'No Tengo Dinero' because I've always been poor. The one that touches my soul is 'Amor Eterno' because it reminds me of my mother and now I dedicate it to him."

Jail time

Juan Gabriel was born in Paracuaro, Michoacan state on January 7, 1950. After his father was committed to a mental institution, his mother moved the family to Ciudad Juarez, placing her son in a boarding school. When he took his stage name later, he chose Juan after a teacher at the school and Gabriel after his father. He sang in a church choir as a boy, was taken in by nuns, and got his start singing in Juarez bars and on a local TV show.

But it was a tough climb to stardom, with many rejections, disappointments and a stint of homelessness in Mexico City that ended with him in jail. He found his way into the music business with help from the warden, however, working as a composer, arranger and producer. His growing fame landed him roles in Mexican movies.-AFP