Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel-winning Colombian authorwhose "magical realism" told epic stories of love, family and dictatorship in LatinAmerica, has died at the age of 87.Known affectionately as "Gabo," the author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and"Love in the Time of Cholera" was one of the world's most popular Latin Americannovelists and the godfather of a literary movement that witnessed a continent inturmoil.The longtime journalist was a colorful character who befriended Cuban leader FidelCastro, was once punched by fellow Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and jokedthat he wrote to make his friends love him.Presidents, writers and celebrities mourned his death."One thousand years of solitude and sadness for the death of the greatestColombian of all time," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted.He later declared three days of national mourning."The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers," US President BarackObama said.The cause of death was not revealed but Garcia Marquez had been hospitalized forpneumonia on March 31 and discharged a week later to recover at his Mexico Cityhome.His wife Mercedes and two sons were reportedly by his side at home when he died.
The family said his body would be cremated and officials announced a publictribute will be held in Mexico City's Bellas Artes Palace cultural center Monday.Born March 6, 1927, in the village of Aracataca on Colombia's Caribbean coast,Garcia Marquez was the son of a telegraph operator.He was raised by his grandparents and aunts in a tropical culture influenced by theheritage of Spanish settlers,indigenouspopulationsandblackslaves.Hisgrandfather was a retired colonel.The exotic legends of his homeland inspired him to write profusely. His masterpiece,"One Hundred Years of Solitude," was translated into 35 languages and sold morethan 30 million copies.The book, published in 1967, is a historical and literary saga about a family fromthe imaginary Caribbean village of Macondo between the 19th and 20th century -- anovel that turned the man with the mustache and thick eyebrows into an
international star.It was rich in "magical realism," which Garcia Marquez has described as the notionthat behind reality as we perceive it, there is much more going on that we do notunderstand. - 'Without a penny' -Garcia Marquez wrote the novel after moving to Mexico City in 1961, taking a longbus ride from New York with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, and son Rodrigo.His second son, Gonzalo, was born a year later in the Mexican capital, where theauthor lived for more than three decades.He recalled arriving in Mexico City "without a name or a penny in my pocket."The writer faced financial hardship, working for advertising agencies, penningscreenplays and editing small magazines."As long as there was whisky, there was no misery," Garcia Marquez quipped.The novelist owed nine months of rent payments when he penned "One HundredYears of Solitude" and could barely afford to send the manuscript to his editor inArgentina.Garcia Marquez wore a traditional white liqui-liqui costume with a high collar fromhis region to receive his Nobel prize in Sweden in 1982.The Nobel committee rewarded him for books "in which the fantastic and therealistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting acontinent's life and conflicts."In his Nobel speech, Garcia Marquez said it was the "outsized reality" of brutaldictatorships and civil wars in Latin America, "and not just its literary expression,"that got the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters.His other famous books include "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," "The General in HisLabyrinth" and his autobiography "Living to Tell the Tale."His final novel, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores," was published in 2004.
- Journalist, Castro friend -Garcia Marquez also left his mark in journalism, which he considered "the mostbeautiful profession in the world."He founded the Ibero-American New Journalism Foundation in the Colombian port
city of Cartagena in 1994.His first job was with Bogota's El Espectador newspaper, which published his firstshort story in 1947, paying him 800 pesos, or less than $0.50 per month.He left for Europe after an article angered the military regime at the time, living inGeneva, Rome and Paris, where he finished the 1961 book "No One Writes to theColonel."An admirer of Cuba's revolution, he became a correspondent for the communistisland's Prensa Latina news agency in Bogota and New York.He forged a controversial friendship with Castro, who called him "a man with thegoodness of a child and a cosmic talent."But he also worked as an emissary between Castro and another powerful friend,then US president Bill Clinton, in the 1990s.In Mexico, his circle of friends included renowned Mexican writers Octavio Paz andCarlos Fuentes."I write so that my friends will love me," the novelist quipped.Garcia Marquez had a falling out with his friend Vargas Llosa that culminated withthe Peruvian novelist punching him outside a Mexico City movie theater in 1976."We were completely stunned and astonished," Mexican writer Elena Poniatowskarecalled in an interview.Neither one ever revealed the pair had quarreled.But Vargas Llosa paid tribute to Garcia Marquez, saying: "His novels will survive himand continue gaining readers everywhere.