MEXICO CITY -- Chavela Vargas, who defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico, died Sunday at age 93.

Her friend and biographer Maria Cortina said Vargas died at a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca, where she had been admitted for heart and respiratory problems.

Vargas rose to fame flouting the Roman Catholic country's preconceptions of what it meant to be a female singer: singing lusty "ranchera" songs while wearing men's clothes, carrying a pistol, drinking heavily and smoking cigars.

Though she refused to change the pronouns in love songs about women as some audiences expected, many of her versions of passionate Mexican folk songs are considered definitive.

Born in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica, on April 17, 1919, Vargas immigrated to Mexico at age 14. She sang in the streets as a teenager, then ventured into a professional singing career well in her 30s.

"I was never afraid of anything because I never hurt anyone," Vargas told the audience at a Mexico City tribute concert in June 2011. "I was always an old drunk."

Vargas recorded 80 albums, becoming a major figure in Mexico City's artistic explosion of the mid-20th century. She was a friend and a frequent house guest of the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and was close to the Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca.

Along the way she was honored as a "distinguished citizen" of Mexico City and was given Spain's Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic. In 2007 the Latin Recording Academy gave her its lifetime achievement award.

She appeared in the 2002 film "Frida," about her old friend, singing the eerie song "La Llorona," or "The Crier," in a hoarse but haunting voice.

"I don't think there is a stage big enough in this world for Chavela," wrote the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who featured her music in many of his films.

Though her liaisons with women were known throughout her life, Vargas did not publicly come out as a lesbian until publishing her autobiography "Y si quieres saber de mi pasado" ("If You Want to Know About My Past) at age 81.

"What hurt was not being homosexual, but what they throw it in my face as if it were the plague," she wrote.

As a youth, she suffered from polio and she attributed her recovery to the shamans she consulted.

Her doctor, Jose Manuel Nunez, said Sunday that she had refused to accept breathing tubes or other measures to keep her alive.

"She had to have a natural death," he said.

Cortina said Chavez "went with great peace. She never complained."

She was conscious to the end, the writer said. "She sought my hand and her shamanic medallion."

In 2011, Vargas was still at work, releasing a new album of Garcia Lorca's poems and basking in standing ovations from a wheelchair on stage while wearing her emblematic neckerchief. In interviews she said she was at "peace with life and could not ask for more," saying that at death, she would "go with pleasure."

"Each of you remembers me as you like, each one say what they feel and what they lived with me," she said. "I ask God that wherever I am going someday, you will come to greet me, and I will greet all of you."

___

Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon and Olga Rodriguez in Mexico City and Oswald Alonso in Cuernavaca contributed to this report.

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Chavela Vargas

    FILE - In this May 30, 2007 file photo, singer Chavela Vargas performs in concert in Guadalajara, Mexico. Vargas, 93, died on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, after being hospitalized recently due to cardiac and renal problems. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias, File)

  • FILE - In this April 21, 2009 file photo, singer Chavela Vargas acknowledges the audience during a ceremony in her honor in Mexico City. Doctors of the legendary singer say she is in serious condition at Cuernavaca's Inovamed hospital, in central Mexico. A medical report released to the media on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 says Vargas has cardiac and renal problems. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini, File)

  • Costa Rican singer Chavela Vargasm 83 years of age

    LIMA, PERU: Costa Rican singer Chavela Vargasm 83 years of ages, faces her audience 12 October 2002, during her first performance in Lima, Peru. La cantante costarricense Chavela Vargas, de 83 a?os, se dirige a su publico el 12 de octubre de 2002, en su primera presentaci=n en la ciudad de Lima. AFP PHOTO/JAIME RAZURI (Photo credit should read JAIME RAZURI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Chavela Vargas, Martirio

    FILE - In this April 12, 2012 file photo, singer Chavela Vargas, left, speaks to Spanish singer Martirio as they pose for pictures after a news conference in the garden of Vargas' home in Tepoztlan, Mexico. Vargas, who defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico, died at age 93 on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Her friend and biographer Maria Cortina says Vargas died at a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini, File)

  • Chavela Vargas

    Costa Rica-born and Mexico-raised Chavela Vargas performs during a concert at the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City, Sunday, April 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

  • Chavela Vargas

    Costa Rica-born and Mexico-raised Chavela Vargas performs during a show at the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City, Sunday, April 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

  • Chavela Vargas

    FILE - In this June 18, 2011 file photo, Costa Rica-born singer Chavela Vargas attends an event honoring her in Mexico City. Vargas, who defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico, died at age 93 on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Her friend and biographer Maria Cortina says Vargas died at a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

  • Chavela Vargas

    Singer Chavela Vargas holds up her new album during a news conference in the garden of her home in Tepoztlan, Mexico, Thursday, April 12, 2012. Vargas, who was born in Costa Rica and became a living legend in Mexico, gave a news conference to promote her new album "La Luna Grande" or "The Big Moon." (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

  • Costa Rican singer Chavela Vargas smiles

    Costa Rican singer Chavela Vargas smiles during the presentation of her book 'The Truths of Chavela' in the framework of the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico on November 28, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Ivan Garcia (Photo credit should read IVAN GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Chavela Vargas

    FILE - In this June 18, 2011, file photo, Costa Rica-born singer Chavela Vargas gestures during an event honoring her in Mexico City. Vargas, who defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico, died at age 93 on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Her friend and biographer Maria Cortina says Vargas died at a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, file)

  • Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Varga

    Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas smiles during a ceremony in her honor for her 90th birthday, on April 21, 2009, in Mexico City. AFP PHOTO/Ronaldo Schemidt (Photo credit should read Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Varga

    Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas (C) speaks during a ceremony in her honor for her 90th birthday, on April 21, 2009, in Mexico city. AFP PHOTO/Ronaldo Schemidt (Photo credit should read Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The singer of popular Mexican music, Chavela Varga

    CIUDAD DE MEXICO, MEXICO - APRIL 9: The singer of popular Mexican music, Chavela Vargas, interprets a subject during her performance in the zocalo in Mexico City, Mexico, on the night of 9 April 2000. La cantante de musica popular mexicana Chavela Vargas interpreta un tema durante su presentacion en el zocalo de la Ciudad de Mexico la noche del 09 de abril de 2000. Chavela reunio a miles de personas durante su concierto gratuito que formo parte del programa del XVI festival del Centro Historico de esta Ciudad. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)




CHAVELA VARGAS, "EL ULTIMO TRAGO"