Magazine Feature

Paulina Rubio Remembers Her Mentor Juan Gabriel: 'For Me, He Was Invincible'

Paulina Rubio
Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images

Paulina Rubio poses during the red carpet of Billboard Latin Music Awards 2016 at Bank United Center on April 28, 2016 in Miami. 

I’ve known Juan Gabriel for as long as I can remember. He was a confidant of my mother [Mexican actress Susana Dosamantes], one of her great friends, and he was also friends with my grandmother, who died in 1998. He became my friend, my mentor, my fairy godmother, my everything.

One of my earliest memories of Juan Gabriel was seeing him sing in my mother’s house. He would touch my hair, my outfits. I always called him “Don Alberto,” and he called me mi niña or mi niña adorada [my little girl or my adored girl]. He always empowered me.

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I remember as a little girl, one time I peeked through the balcony and my mother was there with [singers] Lupita D’alessio, Angelica Maria and Camilo Sesto, and Juan Gabriel was singing with José José. This was in the late 1970s. They used to have big bohemian nights at home. He was always very special with my family.

I have many memories of him, but perhaps my most cherished one is my wedding day in 2007 [Rubio wed Nicolas Colate in Xtaret; they have since divorced]. I knew he was coming to the reception because he was one of the guests of honor and a witness at the ceremony. We had already sat down for dinner when someone said, “We have a surprise for you,” and this mariachi walked into the dining room. We weren’t supposed to have a mariachi play at that moment because it was a sit-down dinner with classical music. But Juan Gabriel had flown in his 35-piece mariachi — he got up with them and he sang for three hours!

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I remember one time we were in Spain and we hosted a party at [Spanish architect] Ricardo Bofill’s house. Juan Gabriel came with my mom and, we introduced him to Cher and they spoke for a long time. I think they bonded because of their glamour and extroverted nature onstage.

I always had a close friendship with him, but I also admired him deeply. I admired his lyrics, his songs, his personality. I sang with him several times and also recorded a song he wrote for Quintana Roo in the Mayan Rivera, “Cancun y Yo.”

He always gave me much love and advice, and music. We spoke often and he was happy to see me in love again. In fact, my husband [Gerardo Bazúa] opened up his concert in the Tijuana Plaza.

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The last time I saw him, he told me, “Enjoy me, because I’m getting old. I’m tired. Visit me, call me, don’t get lost.” I would tell him not to get depressed, that he wasn’t alone.

His legacy is his art, his music. He was very eclectic and created melodies even in his sleep. He would wake up in the middle of the night with a melody and grab his cell phone or his recorder.

But he felt most complete when he was in front of his audience. He loved to work, and he never wanted to leave the stage because it was important for him that everyone be happy. That’s my lasting impression.

For me, he was invincible.

As told to Leila Cobo.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of Billboard.