MEXICO CITY — Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel laureate whose novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality, died at home in Mexico City around midday, according to people close to his family. He was 87.
Widely considered the most popular Spanish-language writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, Garcia Marquez achieved literary celebrity that spawned comparisons to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
His flamboyant and melancholy fictional works among them "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," ''Love in the Time of Cholera" and "Autumn of the Patriarch" outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible. The epic 1967 novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.
His stories made him literature's best-known practitioner of magical realism, the fictional blending of the everyday with fantastical elements such as a boy born with a pig's tail and a man trailed by a swarm of yellow butterflies.
His death was confirmed by two people close to the family who spoke on condition of anonymity out of respect for the family's privacy.
"One Hundred Years of Solitude" was "the first novel in which Latin Americans recognized themselves, that defined them, celebrated their passion, their intensity, their spirituality and superstition, their grand propensity for failure," biographer Gerald Martin told The Associated Press.
When he accepted the Nobel prize in 1982, Garcia Marquez described Latin America as a "source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable."
With writers including Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, Garcia Marquez was also an early practitioner of the literary nonfiction that would become known as New Journalism. He became an elder statesman of Latin American journalism, with magisterial works of narrative non-fiction that included the "Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor," the tale of a seaman lost on a life raft for 10 days.
Other pieces profiled Venezuela's larger-than-life president, Hugo Chavez, and vividly portrayed how cocaine traffickers led by Pablo Escobar had shred the social and moral fabric of his native Colombia, kidnapping members of its elite, in "News of a Kidnapping."
In 1994, Garcia Marquez founded the Iberoamerican Foundation for New Journalism, which offers training and competitions to raise the standard of narrative and investigative journalism across Latin America. Like many Latin American writers, Garcia Marquez transcended the world of letters.
The man widely known as "Gabo" became a hero to the Latin American left as an early ally of Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and a critic of Washington's violent interventions from Vietnam to Chile.
Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, a small Colombian town near the Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927. He was the eldest of the 11 children of Luisa Santiaga Marquez and Gabriel Elijio Garcia, a telegraphist and a wandering homeopathic pharmacist who was also something of a philanderer and fathered at least four children outside of his marriage. Just after their first son was born, his parents left him with his maternal grandparents and moved to Barranquilla, where Garcia Marquez's father opened a pharmacy, hoping to become rich.
Garcia Marquez was raised for 10 years by his grandmother and his grandfather, a retired colonel who fought in the devastating 1,000-Day War that hastened Colombia's loss of the Panamanian isthmus. His grandparents' tales would provide grist for Garcia Marquez's fiction and Aracataca became the model for "Macondo," the village surrounded by banana plantations at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains where "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is set. "I have often been told by the family that I started recounting things, stories and so on, almost since I was born," Garcia Marquez once told an interviewer. "Ever since I could speak."
Garcia Marquez's parents continued to have children, and barely made ends meet. Their first-born son was sent to a state-run boarding school just outside Bogota where he became a star student and voracious reader, favoring Hemingway, Faulkner, Dostoevsky and Kafka.
Garcia Marquez published his first piece of fiction as a student in 1947, mailing a short story to the newspaper El Espectador after its literary editor wrote that "Colombia's younger generation has nothing to offer in the way of good literature anymore." His father insisted he study law but he dropped out, bored, and dedicated himself to journalism. The pay was atrocious and Garcia Marquez recalled his mother visiting him in Bogota and commenting in horror at his bedraggled appearance that: "I thought you were a beggar."
Garcia Marquez's writing was constantly informed by his leftist political views, themselves forged in large part by a 1928 military massacre near Aracataca of banana workers striking against the United Fruit Company, which later became Chiquita. He was also greatly influenced by the assassination two decades later of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a galvanizing leftist presidential candidate. Garcia Marquez suffered a strong official backlash to his story about how government corruption contributed to the disaster recounted in "Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor." A dictatorship seized power and Garcia Marquez made a new home in Europe.
After touring the Soviet-controlled east, he moved to Rome in 1955 to study cinema, a lifelong love. Then he moved to Paris, where he lived among intellectuals and artists exiled from the many Latin American dictatorships of the day. Garcia Marquez returned to Colombia in 1958 to marry Mercedes Barcha, a neighbor from childhood days. They had two sons, Rodrigo, a film director, and Gonzalo, a graphic designer. After a 1981 run-in with Colombia's government in which he was accused of sympathizing with M-19 rebels and sending money to a Venezuelan guerrilla group, Garcia Marquez moved to Mexico City, his main home for the rest of his life.
A farewell letter written in 2009 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If for a while God forgot that I'm a puppet and gave me a piece of life, probably I wouldn't say everything that I think, but definitively I would think everything that I say. I would give more value to things not because of what they cost but because of what they mean.
I would sleep less and dream more. I understand that for each minute that we close our eyes, we lose sixty seconds of light. I would walk when the others stopped, I would wake up when the others slept, I would listen when the others spoke, and how much I would enjoy a chocolate ice-cream!
If God gave me a piece of life I would dress simply, I would lie on the sun, "showing" not only my body but my soul. My God, if I had a heart, I would write my hate on the ice and I would wait for the sun to rise.
My God, if I had a piece of life... I won't let a single day pass without saying people I love how much I love them. I would convince every single women and men that they are my favorites and I would live in love with love
I would prove people how wrong they are to think that they stop falling in love when they get older, without knowing that they get older when they stop falling in love! To a kid... I would give him wings, but I let him alone to learn how to fly. To the elder I would teach them that death does not arrive with being old but with forgetting.
There are so many things I have learned from you, people... I have learned that everybody wants to live in the pick of the mountain without knowing that the true happiness lays in the way "you get into it". I have learned that when a new born grasp his father's fist for the first time, he caught him forever.
I have learned that a man has only the right to look down to another when he has to help him to stand up. There are so many things I have been able to learn from you, but actually they won't be that worth, because when they keep me into this suitcase, unhappily I will be dying.
Always say what you feel and do what you think.
If I knew today as the last time I'm gonna see you sleep, I would hug you so strong and I would pray the lord to be able to be the guardian of your soul. If I knew this is the last time I'm gonna see you going out through that door, I would give you a hug, a kiss and I would call you again to give you more. If I knew this was the last time I am gonna hear your voice, I would record each one of your words to be able to hear them forever. If I knew these were the last moments I see you I would tell you "I love you" and I wouldn't assume, stupidly, that you already know it.
There is always a tomorrow and life gives us the opportunity to do things right, but in case I'm wrong and today is the only thing we have left, I would like to tell you how much I love you, and that I'm never going to forget you.
Nobody has for sure a tomorrow, young or old. Today can be the last time you see the ones you love. So... don't wait more, do it today, because if tomorrow never comes, you will for sure regret the day you didn't take time for a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were so occupied to give them their last wish. Keep the ones you love near you, tell them in their ear how much you need them. Love them and treat them good. Take time to tell them "I'm sorry", "forgive me", "please", "thank you", and all the love words you know.
Nobody will remember you for your secret thoughts. Ask God for the strength and the wisdom to express them. Show your friend how important they are for you.