But some critics assailed Fuentes for depicting what they saw as a mythological and stereotypical image of Mexico as a neocolonial, violent and corrupt country, an image they believed was designed to appeal to Fuentes' growing numbers of U.S. and European readers.
The contrast between Fuentes' urbane, fastidious, bon vivant persona and his generally left-of-center politics spurred a famous attack by the intellectual Enrique Krauze in a 1988 piece in the New Republic that labeled Fuentes "the guerrilla dandy."
"There is the suspicion in Mexico that Fuentes merely uses Mexico as a theme, distorting it for a North American public, claiming credentials that he does not have," Krauze wrote.
As a young man, Fuentes was a leftist who sympathized with Fidel Castro's communist revolution in Cuba and was highly critical of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country as a virtual one-party state for seven decades. His endorsement of the Nicaraguan leftist revolutionary Sandinistas led to a permanent rift with his former mentor, Octavio Paz, the Mexican man of letters and Nobel laureate.
Gradually, Fuentes shifted to a more moderate liberal position on many issues, criticizing the excesses of both the left and the right. In recent years, he labeled Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, a "tropical Mussolini." He also argued that conservative President Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels, which has left 50,000 Mexicans dead since 2006, would be futile as long as the United States failed to recognize and rectify its own part in the illegal drug trade.
His most recent column, about the presidential election in France, was published Tuesday in the daily Reforma newspaper. Disdainful of many Mexican politicians, he tacked a note at the end taking aim at the tone of Mexico's current presidential race, which he said had sacrificed discussion of big issues for the candidates' petty attempts to knock one another down.
Fuentes was married from 1959 to 1973 to actress Rita Macedo. He is survived by a daughter, Cecilia, from that marriage. His two children by his second wife, journalist Silvia Lemus, who also survives her husband, both died before him.
"Work is what saves you," Fuentes once said in explaining how he had overcome his life's adversities. In an interview published Monday in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Fuentes said he had just completed a novel, called "Federico on his Balcony," and had already begun another.
"I have no literary fears. I've always known well what I want to do and I get up and do it. I get up in the morning at 7 and by 8 I'm writing," he said. "Between my books, my wife, my friends and my loves, I have enough reasons to keep living."
Johnson reported from Los Angeles and Ellingwood from Mexico City. Times Mexico City bureau chief Tracy Wilkinson in Culiacan contributed to this report.