Three-time Grammy-winning country musician Freddy Fender, best known for his ’70s country hit “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” died at noon Saturday at his Corpus Christi home with his family at his bedside, according to a spokesman. He was 69.
In August, Fender’s wife and manager, Vangie Huerta, had announced that her husband had inoperable cancer and was “hoping for a miracle” after being told by doctors in June that he had multiple tumors on his lungs, reported the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
“I feel very comfortable in my life,” the Texas-based singer told the paper. “I’m one year away from 70 and I’ve had a good run.”
Often one to speak frankly about his battles with drug and alcohol abuse, Fender also had longtime health issues, struggling with diabetes and Hepatitis C – and requiring a kidney transplant in 2002, using an organ donated by his then-21-year-old daughter, Marla Huerta Garcia. In 2004, he also received a liver transplant.
It had never been an easy life. As Fender told PEOPLE in 1979, he was born Baldemar Huerta and hailed from south Texas, specifically the poor farm town of San Benito. It’s a region that has long mixed its music, where Bob Wills blended big-band sounds with country and Marty Robbins grafted mariachi guitars onto Nashville ballads.
Fender, whose career started when he returned from service in the Marines in the late 1950s, took his stage name from the brand of guitar. Initially pursuing a rock-country-Latin sound, he recorded Spanish versions of hits by Elvis Presley and Harry Belafonte. But that early start was interrupted by a three-year prison stretch for marijuana possession in Louisiana during the early 1960s. Upon his release he took work as a mechanic.
Success finally arrived in the next decade, when he was persuaded to record “Teardrop” on an independent label. His other hits included “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “You’ll Lose A Good Thing.”
More recently, he played with Doug Sahm, Flaco Jimenez and others in two Tex-Mex all-star combos, the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven. “You’ve heard of New Kids on the Block?” Fender, then 54, told PEOPLE in 1991, at the time of the Texas Tornadoes. “Well, we’re the old farts in the neighborhood.”
In 1999, Fender received his own Hollywood Walk of Fame star after being personally recommended for the honor by then-Texas governor George W Bush, and in 2002 he won his last Grammy, a best Latin pop award for his album “La Mésica de Baldemar Huerta.”
Besides daughter Marla and wife Vangie – whom Fender married in 1957, divorced around 1993 and then remarried in 1995 – Fender is survived by three other children.