Mexico's most celebrated author best known in U.S. for 'Old Gringo'
Author Carlos Fuentes, who played a dominant role in Latin America’s novel-writing boom by delving into the failed ideals of the Mexican revolution, died Tuesday in Mexico City. He was 83 and had a sudden internal hemorrhage that caused him to lose consciousness.
Mexico’s most celebrated novelist wrote his first novel, “Where the Air Is Clear,” at age 29, laying the foundation for a boom in Spanish contemporary literature during the 1960s and 1970s.
“The Death of Artemio Cruz,” a novel about a post-revolutionary Mexico that failed to keep its promise of narrowing social gaps, brought Fuentes international notoriety.
The elegant, mustachioed author’s other contemporary classics included “Aura,” ”Terra Nostra,” and “The Good Conscience.” Many American readers know him for “The Old Gringo,” a novel about San Francisco journalist Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared at the height of the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution. That book — the first U.S. bestseller by a Mexican author — was later made into a film starring Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda.
Fuentes was often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize but never won one. Fuentes wrote plays and short stories and co-founded a literary magazine. He was also a columnist, political analyst, essayist and critic, and he also penned scripts for a number of films.
His first screenplay was for Roberto Gavaldon’s “El Gallo de Oro” (The Golden Cockerel) in 1964. In 1965, he wrote the script for Arturo Ripstein’s “Tiempo de Morir” (Time to Die) with Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another celebrated Latin American expat who made Mexico his home.
In 1987 Fuentes won the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honor.
Fuentes also taught courses at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Brown universities in the U.S.
The son of a career diplomat, Fuentes himself served as an ambassador to England. He resigned from Mexico’s foreign service in protest over Mexico’s 1968 student massacre but returned to serve as ambassador to Paris beginning in 1975.
Fuentes resigned from the foreign service again in 1977 when former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was appointed ambassador to Spain, saying he wouldn’t serve with the man who ordered the student massacre in Mexico City.
Fuentes was born in Panama City to Mexican parents. He was married from 1959-73 to actress Rita Macedo, with whom he had his only surviving daughter.
After the couple divorced, Fuentes married journalist Silvia Lemus and they had two children together. Their son Carlos Fuentes Lemus died from complications associated with hemophilia in 1999, and Natasha Fuentes Lemus died in 2005 after a cardiac arrest.
Fuentes also acknowledged having affairs with actresses including Jeanne Moreau and Jean Seberg.
(Variety’s James Young in Mexico City contributed to this report.)