Yesterday we lost Gabriel García Márquez.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—The Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez popularized magical realism in Latin American literature by writing fantastical novels that drew on the folk tales and ghost stories he had heard as a child on Colombia’s poor, sun-baked Caribbean coast.

Mr. García Márquez, who died in his Mexico City home at age 87 on Thursday after being hospitalized for infections, was best known for his 1967 masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which recounted the travails of the abundant and obsessive Buendía clan.

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Translated into dozens of languages and selling 30 million copies, the book is considered literature’s exemplar of magical realism, generating countless imitations and inspiring a generation of writers in Latin America and beyond.

Though Mr. García Márquez didn’t invent the technique, he became the leading exponent of the style, which balances dreamlike, fantastical vignettes with sharply focused realism, all of it solemnly delivered through an eccentric cast of whimsical characters.

Colombian writer and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez greets fans and reporters outside his home in Mexico City on March 6.

Readers of his books have delighted in stories populated with tin-pot dictators, cows that invade a palace, women that levitate, self-obsessed characters that don’t age and brokenhearted suitors.

The news triggered an outpouring of grief from Colombians, who venerate Mr. García Márquez and see his literature as reflecting the soul of their country. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted: “One-thousand years of solitude and sadness for the death of the greatest Colombian of all time!”gab2

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Mr. García Márquez wrote some of the Spanish language’s most revered books, many of which became best sellers in the U.S.

They included “Autumn of the Patriarch,” about a Caribbean tyrant; “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” which painstakingly narrates a small-town murder; “Love in the Time of Cholera,” about two lovers who wait half a century to reunite, and “The General in his Labyrinth,” detailing independence hero Simón Bolívar’s inglorious last days.

Mr. García Márquez was also an accomplished journalist, whose lyrical, deeply reported stories first caught the eye of readers in Colombia’s chilly mountain capital, Bogotá, in the early 1950s.

He later became renowned not only for his profiles of presidents and despots but for the real-life close ties he cultivated with leaders ranging from Fidel Castro to Bill Clinton to François Mitterrand.

Mr. García Márquez found a certain thrill in hobnobbing with the powerful, noted his friends. “I still can’t get used to the idea that my friends become presidents, nor have I yet overcome my susceptibility to being impressed by government palaces,” he once wrote in an article, as recounted in Gerald Martin’s 2009 biography, “Gabriel García Márquez: A Life.”gab3

Proudly leftist and anti-imperialist, he used his fame to try to lobby for Latin American unity and an end to U.S. meddling in the region.

Mr. García Márquez’s friendship with Mr. Castro, though, caused him trouble. Other Latin American writers, among them the Cuban exile Guillermo Cabrera Infante, criticized him for cultivating warm ties with a dictator.

“Castro’s courtesan,” the Peruvian author, Mario Vargas Llosa, took to calling Mr. García Márquez.

Coincidentally, Cheo Feliciano passed away yesterday as well. It was just too sad a day to prepare both obituaries.

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