Rapper Big Punisher was nearly 700 pounds at the time of his death Monday, according to the deputy medical examiner of Westchester County, N.Y.
"He had an enlarged heart, about three times the normal size," Dr. Louis Roh said. "That is not healthy."
While the county is awaiting the results of routine toxicology and microscopic tests before ruling on an official cause of death, Roh said the 698-pound rapper, whose born name was Christopher Rios, showed signs of heart failure and extreme obesity.
Rios, known commonly as Big Pun, was pronounced dead at 3:53 p.m. Monday after being taken from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains, N.Y., to White Plains Hospital. He was 28. He and his family were living temporarily at the hotel while their Bronx (N.Y.) home was undergoing renovations, according to Mickey Bentson, the rapper's manager.
A memorial service is being planned for Friday in the Bronx.
Big Pun's press materials claimed he was 400 pounds. Bentson said his obesity and health were a concern to the people around him and also to the rapper himself. But, he said, it was never a hindrance.
"He always felt healthy, no matter how big he was," Bentson said from his Virginia office.
But Big Pun's weight and eating habits were sources of constant arguments between the rapper and his friends, said his former road manager, Felix "Flex" Cabrera, now the A&R director for Terror Squad Records, run by Fat Joe, Big Pun's professional mentor and close friend. He said the rapper did not like to eat in front of friends.
The rapper attended a weight-loss camp at Duke University last summer and was able to lose 100 pounds, according to Cabrera and Bentson. But he ended his stay early and quickly put the weight back on.
"He wanted to come back to New York," Cabrera said. "Pun could talk you into about anything. He was like a used-car salesman or a lawyer."
Cabrera said Big Pun's problems began after the age of 18, when he was "a normal-sized human being" of about 180 pounds.
Three years later, the rapper weighed 300 pounds, Cabrera said.
His second album, Yeeeah Baby, was scheduled to come out on Loud Records April 4. Bentson said he did not know how the rapper's death would affect the release. A Loud Records spokesperson could not be reached for comment, but the label released a statement Tuesday (Feb. 8) noting that Big Pun had been preparing to release the album.
A Bronx native of Puerto Rican heritage, he had worked with Fat Joe, another rapper of Puerto Rican descent, for several years, before becoming a star in 1998 with his album Capital Punishment. The album, featuring the sexually playful single "Still Not a Player" (RealAudio excerpt) ("I'm not a player/ I just fuck a lot"), has sold 1.4 million copies, according to SoundScan.
But shortly after the album's release in April 1998, Big Pun was ordered by a doctor to rest for two weeks, after he showed signs of exhaustion while on the promotional trail.
Pun kept a relatively high profile after Capital Punishment. With Fat Joe, Cuban Lynx and other Latino rappers, he released the album Terror Squad last fall. He also appeared on albums by DJ Clue, Pete Rock and singer Jennifer Lopez, as well as the soundtrack to the movie "White Boys."
He was scheduled to perform the Lopez song "Feelin' So Good" (RealAudio excerpt) along with the singer and Fat Joe on NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live" on Saturday but failed to show. A spokesperson for the program deferred comment to Loud Records.
He is survived by his wife, Liza, and three children Amanda, 9; Vanessa, 7 and Christopher, 6.
"Pun was many things," Fat Joe said in the statement released by Loud. "To me, he was my brother; to the hip-hop community, he was a living legend; to Latinos everywhere, he broke down barriers in the entertainment industry. But most importantly, he was a man, a husband and a father. He will be missed but never forgotten."
"Pun has set a plateau for us," Bentson said. "It wasn't a fatal death. It was an act of God."
Bentson said he and the late rapper's friends in the Terror Squad and his professional colleagues would work to continue his legacy as hip-hop's first platinum-selling solo Latino star. (Cypress Hill were the first platinum-selling Latino rap group, with their 1991 debut, Cypress Hill).
"This kid was one of the funniest rappers out there," Bentson said. He had more to give ... We're going to be there to the end. We're not going to let it die."
"Pun was much more than one of the most talented rappers today," Loud chairman and chief executive officer Steve Rifkind said in the company's statement. "Everyone at Loud [has] lost a close family member. Our hearts go out to his wife, his children and his fans."