MEXICO CITY — Vicente Fernández, the Mexican singer known as “El Rey,” one of the most popular rancheras of his time and perhaps the best-known international singer of his genre, died Saturday at 81.
Mr. Fernández, whose many hits included the 1960 track “Vuelve a Escultura” (“Take Away the Torment”), died after a battle with cancer, according to a post on Facebook.
“This man, whom my heart swells with sorrow, has come to rest in a place he knew all too well: the hills,” the post read.
After bursting onto the scene in the 1960s, Mr. Fernández became a staple of Mexico’s music scene, recording dozens of albums and making hundreds of appearances on television, including a successful television show of his own called “The Voice.”
His flamboyant looks, deep baritone and penchant for bizarre attire — two shirts held up with plastic bags, one covering a giant goatee that was pushed up over his eyes and dubbed a “wig” — made him an icon of pop culture and kept him in the public eye for decades.
A friend and companion of many years,, Carlos Gonzalez, attended Mr. Fernández’s funeral on Friday in Cuernavaca. “He was always very humble and spontaneous,” Gonzalez told reporters. “It was a bittersweet day. He wanted to be alive, but to be alone.”
Mr. Fernández released just two albums after 1974, but his music and music videos continue to be a hit on YouTube. One of his earlier hits, “Los Gusanos” (“The Gophers”), has more than 2.8 million views, and many of his songs were included in the 1990s Mexican movie “El Angel,” based on Gabriel García Márquez’s novel of the same name.
Though his music always stuck close to traditional ranchera sounds, Mr. Fernández often had Caribbean flavor in his style.
Late in his career, he embraced the technology of social media, frequently posting his latest recordings on Facebook and Twitter. In September, he shared his love for social networks in a post to mark his 80th birthday.
As news of his death spread across Mexico, many took to Twitter and Facebook to pay tribute to the singer.
Arista Records, which released Mr. Fernández’s last album, 2014’s “Vuelve a Escultura,” said on its website that its heart goes out to Mr. Fernández’s family and fans.
“Fernández’s sound, his combination of words and music, has stood the test of time,” the label said in a statement. “His music was purely melodic, singular and unforgettable.”
He was born on Sept. 19, 1936, in Toluca, and grew up in Mexico City. Mr. Fernández, known for his love of guitars, sometimes sang a verse of the protest song “La Cucaracha” in English.
After his debut at the Rockland Festival in 1968, Mr. Fernández came to be referred to by his first name in Mexico, and later by his middle name, “Hernandez.”
“Hernandez Fernandez” was the nickname Mr. Fernández received during the severe drought of the 1970s, when the soil in Mexico’s northwest region turned bone dry.
He is survived by his wife, Sofia.
He is also survived by two daughters, Andrés and Marisa Fernández.