If there were any doubts about Juan Gabriel’s demigod status in Mexico, the lavish and emotional memorial ceremony that kicked off yesterday at Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes should clear that up. Over two days, more than one million visitors are expected to pass through Mexico’s downtown landmark to pay their respects as Juanga’s ashes make one final stop before settling into their final resting place in Juárez.
It’s an appropriate venue for an icon of Mexican pop culture like Juan Gabriel, and he joins an illustrious list of artists and writers who have received official services at the ornate art-nouveau palace, including Gabriel García Márquez and Cantinflas. But for el Divo de Juárez, the stop at Bellas Artes is even more significant given that he was the first pop musician to ever perform in its hallowed auditorium 26 years ago.
Several major streets were closed as the massive funeral procession made its way to the palace, with thousands of awaiting fans watching a live broadcast projected on a screen outside the building. As the ceremony kicked off, droves of mourners filled the surrounding streets to pay their respects with makeshift signs, elaborate flower arrangements, and impromptu sing-a-longs.
The theater was kept open all night to accommodate the flood of of visitors, many of whom drove hours to attend the ceremony, and the Ministry of Culture tapped artists like Pepe Aguilar and Ana Gabriel to perform as they filed past the urn. In addition to the solemn event inside, fans were treated by an array of Juan Gabriel impersonators who roamed the streets posing for photos and cheering up the grieving but festive crowd.
Of course, it wasn’t quite like the real thing, but their presence was as a reminder that Juan Gabriel will live on long past his untimely death.