The life of one of music's brightest rising stars Selena Quintanilla was cut tragically short at just 23, when she was shot by her fan club president Yolanda Saldivar, just days before she could celebrate her third wedding anniversary with Chris Pérez. The couple first met and began secretly dating in 1990 when Pérez joined Selena’s band, Los Dinos, as the lead guitarist. The attraction between the pair was instant, but their love story was far from easy. The years before the singer's untimely death were filled with the two having to hide their relationship from her father and later eloping to finally be together.
Their first meeting came when Pérez joined the band
Selena and Pérez first met in 1989 when Pérez was hired as the guitarist for Selena y Los Dinos. Pérez was instantly interested in Selena and the blossoming star made a lasting first impression on him.
“Beautiful and talented,” he told Entertainment Tonight of meeting his future wife. “I’m a shy person by nature, and there was just something about her that she was able to pull me out.”
While the two quickly confessed their feelings for each other, Selena and Pérez decided to hide their relationship, knowing her father and manager, Abraham Quintanilla, wouldn’t approve. However, the secrecy didn’t stop them from falling hard for each other.
“We got to live a fast and crazy life as kids,” Pérez told ET. “I believe I was 20 when we first started getting serious with each other.”
The couple eloped to force Selena's father to accept their relationship
Chaos soon started when Selena’s sister, Suzette, told their father about the relationship. Abraham confronted the guitarist and even kicked him off the tour bus, though the two would go on to continue their love in secret.
Abraham later confronted the two and fired Pérez from the band in retaliation, even calling him a “cancer” to the family, according to Pérez.
“It kind of hurt his pride and his ego to find out that he was the last to know,” Pérez explained in an interview with CNN in 2012. “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.”
On April 2, 1992, Selena and Pérez came up with a plan to elope in order to force Abraham to accept their love. Pérez later remembered the day in a Facebook post celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2019. The musician also shared a picture of their marriage certificate from Nueces County, Texas.
“It's hard to believe that today marks 25 years since Selena and I decided that the only way to be together...was to run away and get married (at 20 and 22 years old) in secret. What a rollercoaster ride THAT day was,” Pérez wrote.
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They had to learn how to navigate marriage and their careers at the same time
The couple's risk paid off. Abraham accepted the two after their elopement and welcomed Pérez back into the band. Now the two faced starting their life as a married couple while also spending all their time working together, and Pérez admitted that the pressure led to them considering getting divorced.
“I think what it boiled down to is that we were young,” he said to CNN. “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.”
However, through lots of communication, the two decided to keep their love going.
“The more we talked about it and the more time went on, it wasn’t a long time, maybe a month, we ended up patching things up and making a promise that we would never let that happen again,” Pérez said.
Selena and Pérez's love story was cut tragically short
On March 31, 1995, just three days before the couple could celebrate their third wedding anniversary, Selena was shot and killed by Yolanda Saldivar, her fan club president and the manager of Selena’s boutiques.
Days earlier, Selena, Pérez and Abraham had confronted Saldivar about embezzling over $30,000 from the boutiques and fan club, demanding paperwork that would prove her innocence.
The morning of her death, Selena left Pérez sleeping at home and headed to a motel where Saldivar had requested they meet to hand over the documents. The two argued at the motel in Corpus Christi until Saldivar pulled out a gun and pointed it at Selena, shooting her in the shoulder when the singer tried to flee.
Selena was later pronounced dead from blood loss and cardiac arrest during emergency surgery at Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital.
Pérez helps keeps her legacy alive
Decades after her tragic death, Selena remains a force in the music industry and widely remembered by friends. Just like her millions of fans, Pérez has continued to work with the Quintanilla family to keep Selena’s legacy alive. So much so that the musician still feels her presence with him every day.
After Abraham said in a 2017 interview that he forgets “that she’s not here with us anymore,” and Pérez said he feels the same way.
“I understand what he means,” Pérez told ET. “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.”