In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Selena Quintanilla captured not only the heart of a nation with her signature style of Latin music—labeling her the Tejano Madonna—but also the instant attention of a young man named Chris Perez. A starry-eyed Jesse Posey plays him in the Netflix drama Selena: The Series, and the real Perez was no less swept under her spell. In fact, to this day Perez considers the young singer one of the truest, most important loves of his life.
Looking back, their story seems downright Shakespearean: two star-crossed lovers forced apart by family fury. Here's what to know about their whirlwind romance.
Chris met Selena when he joined her band.
According to Perez’s book, To Selena, with Love, Perez first met the singer in 1989, when he joined the band Selena y Los Dinos as their guitarist. Selena's brother, A.B. Quintanilla, had respect for Perez’s artistic ability, but Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., wasn’t sure he trusted Perez’s “image.” Keep in mind that Perez was a rock guitarist, and he had the appearance to match it. Abraham worried that he might tarnish Selena’s otherwise sterling reputation, and therefore her musical career. A.B. pushed for Perez to join the band anyway, and eventually Abraham relented.
As they started working together, Perez and Selena noticed a budding attraction, despite the fact that Perez was taken—he had a girlfriend back home in San Antonio. But in a Pizza Hut, naturally, he confessed his feelings to the rising star, and they decided to pursue an exclusive romance—without telling her father.
Chris was fired from the band after Selena’s dad learned of their relationship.
It was Selena’s sister, Suzette Quintanilla, who alerted Abraham to the clandestine love story happening under his nose, according to Perez's book. Furious, Abraham told Perez to end it, but he refused, continuing the romance à la Romeo and Juliet—in secret. But when Abraham eventually found out, he threatened to disband the group unless Selena removed Perez from the equation. Devastated, Perez retreated. Abraham fired him, and Perez fled home, where he quietly kept in touch with Selena as her stardom amplified.
"I saw him as a threat," Abraham said of Chris to Texas Monthly years ago. "What if they got married and he pulled her out of the band? All the work we did all those years would go down the tubes."
"[It] kind of hurt his pride and his ego to find out that he was the last to know," Chris said of Selena's father in a 2012 interview with CNN, "and when things got tense and things were said by him, it hurt me that he was saying it but I didn't let it get to me because I knew deep down he knew the kind of person I was."
They eloped in 1992.
Flash-forward to a fateful morning in 1992, when Selena appeared at Perez’s hotel door and demanded to see him. She couldn’t keep living apart from him, she said, but she knew Abraham would never approve of their relationship, let alone a wedding. Solution? Elopement. "I was thinking, 'Oh, my God, we're doing this. Oh, my God, what are we doing? Oh, my God!' The next thing I knew, it was over and we had been pronounced man and wife," Perez recalled.
The two were married that same year, and though they wished to keep the news a secret, the media announced their union almost immediately. Of course, Abraham was less than thrilled to have been kept in the dark, but he ultimately accepted Perez. "After that, I accepted him as part of the family. What else could I do?" he told Texas Monthly. Selena and Perez moved into a house right next to the rest of the Quintanilla family.
The marriage between Selena and Perez was passionate but not perfect. Perez admitted in his CNN interview that they had fought and even considered divorce. “We were married and together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We had to learn how to handle that and that was both of us. It's not like she brought up the idea and I was fighting it because honestly I was right there with her.”
But they resolved their conflict and had started talking about having a baby shortly before tragedy struck.
Chris continues to honor Selena after her death.
On March 31, 1995, Selena’s fan club president, Yolanda Saldívar, shot the singer in the back after a dispute about alleged embezzlement. Selena, then just 23 years old, later died at the hospital, two days before her third wedding anniversary with Perez. Decades later, Perez said that her death still shocks him. He told Entertainment Tonight in 2018, “There are times where it feels like you can pick up the phone and call her. Or, you are going to drive home and [think] she’s going to be there.”
In 2001, Perez married Venessa Villanueva, with whom he shares two children, but they divorced in 2008. He says the marriage was, in one sense, an attempt to get over Selena's death.
"When I got remarried, that was me trying to downplay [Selena’s death] in my life," Perez told the New York Post. "It was too painful. I never talked about [Selena’s death]. Getting remarried and starting my new life was a way to get over losing her. I thought getting remarried would help, and it did. But the pain is still there. It’ll always be there.”
Even years after the death of his first love, he said that Selena still inspires him constantly. As her legacy continues in both her music and in this new Netflix show, Perez said that he believes her story will resound with young people for generations to come.
He even spoke highly of the new release, fondly recalling his days with Selena y Los Dinos. “I will forever respect the band and the people involved in it. I hope you guys enjoy this series,” he wrote.
Jesse Posey, who plays Perez in Selena: The Series, studied Perez's old interviews to better understand the role.
Although Posey didn't get the chance to speak personally with Perez, he says he watched old footage to grasp the depths of the couple's intimacy.
"There’s an interview that I love watching with him, which was pretty close after Selena’s death. You can really tell how much he cared for her, how impactful she was with him, and how impactful her death was. It was just so raw, so emotional," Posey told TV Insider.
Perez calls Selena: The Series her family's version of events, not his.
In an interview with the New York Post in December 2020, Perez said that his estranged relationship with his in-laws likely had an impact on the Netflix show and how his relationship with Selena was depicted. "You can line us all up, the guys in the band and the members of her family, and ask us to tell the full story of all the things we experienced together, and it’d be the same story but told from a bunch of different perspectives," he said. "And [Selena: The Series] is their perspective."
He later revealed that the relationship between him and Selena's family continues to be fraught: "“I’m a believer that if you truly ever did love somebody you don’t just stop loving them. So, there’s always going to be that love and respect [for her family]. But things are not as good as they should be and that hurts.”
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