NEW YORK Christopher Rios, who rapped as Big Punisher, was remembered at a wake Friday (Feb. 11) as a generous man who loved children and maintained close ties to his South Bronx neighborhood, even after he found recording success.
The body of the rapper who weighed 698 pounds and showed signs of heart failure when he died Monday, at age 28, in White Plains, N.Y. lay in a coffin at Ortiz Funeral Home. Throughout the day, several thousand fans, friends and neighbors paid their respects.
"You could feel the sadness," said fan Sarah Vegerano, 30, a Bronx
native of Puerto Rican descent, like Rios.
Rios was still living in the South Bronx at the time of his death. He was a visible figure in his neighborhood, several mourners said.
Caesar Feliciano, 18, laid a Puerto Rican flag and memorial booklet on a portrait of Rios spray-painted on canvas by a group of local graffiti artists known as Tats Cru. Feliciano said Rios often played baseball with neighborhood kids at a local park.
"He was a powerful hitter," Feliciano said.
On the back of his coat, Feliciano wore a sticker advertising Rios' upcoming second album, Yeeeah Baby (April 11). The ad includes a parody of Nike's Air Jordan logo the ad's red silhouette showed the overweight rapper in Jordan's leaping pose as he held a microphone rather than a basketball.
A display resembling a platinum record hung within an oval wreath draped in pink, green and white flowers. Rios was the first Latino solo rapper to have a platinum album, 1998's Capital Punishment.
Theresa Combs of St. Clare's Social Services in Newark, N.J., brought 10 somber-looking children to the wake. She said Rios had given her tickets and backstage passes so a group of children could attend a show of his in Newark last year.
"The love that he shared with the kids was genuine," Combs said.
"He taught me that just because he's big didn't mean he couldn't rap," one of the children said. (St. Clare's works on a confidential basis with the children and requested they not be identified.)
Friday's memorial was open to the public; a private service was held Thursday. That one attracted such rappers as Rios' friend and performing partner Fat Joe, LL Cool J, Sean "Puffy" Combs and Lil' Kim, among others, according to the New York Daily News. It also attracted several hundred fans, who stood behind police barricades surrounding the funeral home and repeatedly played the Big Pun hit "Still Not a Player" (RealAudio excerpt).
Fan Richard Molina stood at the side of the road and waved a Puerto Rican flag for passing cars.
"His death almost brought tears to my eyes," Molina said. "He didn't commit no crime. He died of natural causes."
A private funeral for Rios will be held Saturday.