More recently, as a moderate leftist, Fuentes strongly opposed U.S. tactics in the crackdown on immigration as part of the war on terrorism. He warned about Mexico's religious right but also blasted Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as a "Tropical Mussolini."
He was very critical of Mexican drug violence that has killed more than 47,500 people since 2006, something he blamed on a failed policy by Calderon to attack organized crime. His 2008 book, "Destiny and Desire: A Novel," was narrated by a severed head.
Fuentes, like his good friend Garcia Marquez, belonged to the tradition of literary author as social commentator.
"I wear two hats," he said in the 2006 interview, likening himself to Honore de Balzac in producing a combination of human comedy, acute social portraits and ghost stories.
He said at the time he believed he had many more books in him.
"If I thought I had already peaked, I wouldn't be sitting here. There's always another book in there," he said. There is "the psychosis of the empty page" he admitted, but he said "I sleep, dream, get up, write something."
He had no favorites among his many books: "They are all my children. Maybe some are cross-eyed, but I love them all."
A tweet from Mexican writer Hector Aguilar Camin said of Fuentes: "One of a kind. An era, his own genre. A writer for all seasons."
Fuentes himself ventured onto Twitter for only one day, March 19, 2011. His last message read: "There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it."
The author in 1987 won the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor.
He also was named in 1997 a commander of the National Order of Merit, France's highest civilian award given to a foreigner. Spain gave him a Prince of Asturias Award for literature in 1994.
Throughout his life, Fuentes also taught courses at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Brown universities in the United States.
He served as Mexican ambassador to Paris beginning in 1975. He resigned from the foreign service again in 1977 when former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was appointed ambassador to Spain, saying he wouldn't serve with the man who ordered a student massacre in Mexico City, which activists said killed up to 350 people.
A believer that literature allowed him to say what would be censored otherwise, Fuentes also was the subject of censorship.
His mystery novel "Aura," which narrates a romantic encounter beneath a crucifix with a black Christ that some officials claimed was too racy, was banned from public high schools in Puerto Rico. It also sparked controversy in Mexico in 2001 when a former interior secretary asked the novel to be dropped from a suggested reading list at his daughter's private junior high school.
Fuentes was born in Panama on Nov. 11, 1928, to Mexican parents. He lived most of his life abroad, growing up in Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro; Washington; Santiago, Chile; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. He later divided his time between homes in Mexico City and London, where he did most of his writing.
Fuentes was married from 1959 to 1973 to actress Rita Macedo, with whom he had his only surviving daughter.
After the couple divorced, he married Lemus, and they had two children together. Their son Carlos Fuentes Lemus died from complications associated with hemophilia in 1999, and Natasha Fuentes Lemus died in 2005 after a cardiac arrest.
Fuentes also acknowledged having affairs with actresses including Jeanne Moreau and Jean Seberg.
As he grew older, Fuentes left many novels unfinished with imperfections and, he said, "wounds that make the book bleed."
He continued to publish essays and do public speaking to the very end, including the day he died. In an opinion piece in the newspaper Reforma, he expressed optimism for the new government of Francois Hollande, who was sworn in Tuesday as president of France. Fuentes said he hoped it would be "defined less by its technocratic profile and more by what the French understand as 'humanism'."