Freddie Fender said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press that one thing would make his musical career complete - induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
"Hopefully I'll be the first Mexican-American going into Hillbilly Heaven," he said.
Sadly, today he's another entrant into Rock'n'Roll Heaven.
Freddy Fender, the "Bebop Kid" of the Texas-Mexico border who later turned his twangy tenor into the smash country ballad "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," died Saturday. He was 69.
Fender, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2006, died at noon at his Corpus Christi home with his family at his bedside, said Ron Rogers, a family spokesman.
Over the years, he grappled with drug and alcohol abuse, was treated for diabetes and underwent a kidney transplant.
Fender hit it big in 1975 after some regional success, years of struggling - and a stint in prison - when "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" climbed to No. 1 on the pop and country charts.
"Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" rose to No. 1 on the country chart and top 10 on the pop chart that same year, while "Secret Love" and "You'll Lose a Good Thing" also hit No. 1 in the country charts.
Born Baldemar Huerta, Fender was proud of his Mexican-American heritage and frequently sung verses or whole songs in Spanish. "Teardrop" had a verse in Spanish.
Fender was born in 1937 in San Benito, the South Texas border town credited for spawning the Mexican-polka sound of conjunto. The son of migrant workers who did his own share of picking crops, he also was exposed to the blues sung by blacks alongside the Mexicans in the fields.
Always a performer, he sang on the radio as a boy and won contests for his singing - one prize included a tub full of about $10 worth of food.
But his career really began in the late '50s, when he returned from serving in the Marines and recorded Spanish-language versions of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" and Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell." The recordings were hits in Mexico and South America.
He signed with Imperial Records in 1959, renaming himself "Fender" after the brand of his electric guitar, "Freddy" because it sounded good with Fender.
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