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Venezuelan folk singer Simon Diaz dies at 85

By Brian Ellsworth and Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan folk singer Simon Diaz, who wrote some of the country's best-known songs and inspired generations of musicians, died on Wednesday. He was 85.

Affectionately known as "Uncle Simon," Diaz became a household name thanks to radio and television shows that featured typical music of the Venezuelan plains interspersed with jokes and light-hearted stories.

"With tears in my eyes, I announce to the country that my beloved father peacefully left us this morning," wrote his daughter, Bettsimar Diaz, without describing the cause of death.

Diaz wrote the song "Caballo Viejo," or "Old Horse," which became a classic in Venezuela and was the inspiration behind "Bamboleo," the best-known song of the pop-oriented flamenco group Gipsy Kings.

Diaz helped boost the popularity and acceptance in Venezuela of plains music, which features harp, maracas and a four-stringed guitar-like instrument called a cuatro.

He avoided the country's volatile politics by refusing to take a position on the self-styled revolution of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who was himself a devotee of plains music.

During a two-month national strike in 2002, Diaz recorded a television spot in which he sang a short song asking Chavez to listen to those who opposed him while reminding opposition leaders that the president still enjoyed popular support.

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Lisa Von Ahn)

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