Latin music superstar and rising television personality Jenni Rivera's death in a plane crash in Mexico Sunday put an end to a career on an increasingly upward trajectory.
Having sold more than 15 million albums and filled concert venues throughout the United States and Mexico, the Long Beach born-and-raised 43-year-old "Diva of Banda" was also making a name for herself in other media.
She produced and appeared on such mun2 network shows as "Chiquis & Raq-C" and "I Love Jenni," as well as on various programs for the Burbank-based Estrella TV network and in Mexico. She also made her feature film acting debut in the independent production "Filly Brown" at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
And Rivera had an English-language sitcom in development at ABC, in which she was to play a single working Latina mother.
This along with clothing, fragrance and makeup lines, and from a woman who worked as a Realtor before moving into show business in the late 1990s.
"I was the first person to put her music on the radio around 1999," explained Pepe Garza, a close friend and songwriter for Rivera and the program director for L.A.'s Que Buena 105.5 FM. "She was a part-time singer because she had a real estate license. But when I started playing her music on the radio, people -- especially the girls from L.A. -- started to support her a lot."
Rivera sang banda, a Mexican-style polka with big-band, brass ensembles.
Married three times, the mother of five and grandmother of two, Rivera not only informed her traditional Mexican regional songs with her life experiences, but solidified her fan base by being upfront about her vida loca.
"I think she had some real-life problems that the Hispanic audience, and probably a lot of women, have gone through," observed Lenard Liberman, president and CEO of Liberman Broadcasting, Que Buena and Estrella's parent company.
Rivera was a straight-A student at Poly High in Long Beach when she got pregnant at 15, although she continued her education through college. Later her first ex-husband was found guilty of sexual abuse for molesting her oldest daughter and youngest sister, according to a 2011 profile in the Press-Telegram.
Liberman said her listeners could relate to those rocky relationship and travails.
"A lot of folks face that in their lives, and she always came back, she never let it get her down. I think that people respected that.
"She didn't downplay it, she talked about it,' Liberman added. "She didn't try to live a picture-perfect life and hide these things from the media. She was real, and in being real, she was wholesome. She would tell her audience, 'Yeah, I've made mistakes and suffered for them, but I've also learned from those mistakes.' That made her, probably, even more beloved."
Mariluz Gonzalez, who owns Vesper Public Relations in Los Angeles, knew Rivera from her time as a publicist at Fonovisa Records, from 2001 to 2008, and remembers the singer as "very genuine."
"The way you see her on television, that's the way she was in real life," Gonzalez continued. "She was upfront. She was a good person with a really good heart who was really friendly. When you were with her, you just felt like she was just another person who happened to be famous."
In those days Rivera was already among the freshest voices of regional Mexican music. She built up a strong audience selling her music at local swap meets and mom-and-pop shops before ever appearing in clubs.
"Her audience loved her because of her honesty as an artist and as a young single mother who struggled in her life, and who raised her kids in adversity," Gonzalez said.
"Jenni was one of the most influential, authentic and captivating Latinas in entertainment," Diana Mogollon, general manager, mun2, and Emilio Romano, president, Telemundo Media, said in a press release mourning Rivera's loss.
The singer's friend of 11 years and music representative, Fonovisa Marketing Director Martha Ledezma, said the reason she believes Rivera was so popular on both sides of the border was because she never forgot her roots and was always generous to those who were in need.
"Jenni will always be remembered as a great woman, a great artist, but more than anything a great human being who always gave and never asked for anything in return," said Ledezma in Spanish. "She left a legacy for women all over the world because she was strong, she was respected and admired for this."
Liberman pointed out that few if any female singers found the success Rivera enjoyed in her chosen genres -- and that, too, was what earned her so much respect.
"Competing in a man's world, and the ultimate macho man's world, I think is what resonated with the audience," Liberman said, "and the crossover audience, all the folks who feel slighted and maybe disadvantaged in American culture and society. I mean, she broke out and made it."
Although Garza and Liberman were unaware of any plans to cross over into the English language music market, Ledezma said in recent months Rivera was in the final stages of an English pop album.
"Her crossover plan was complete, she was ready," said Ledezma. "It was all coming together."
"She never really had any limits, never said 'I can't do this,"' Garza said, through an interpreter, of Rivera. "I wouldn't be surprised if, at the end of the day, she'd have become a very successful American crossover. Anything she wanted, she would conquer."
Staff Writer Sandra Barrera and freelance writer Brenda Duran contributed to this report.