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The Jenni Rivera I Knew: Family First

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I met Jenni Rivera July 27, 2012. I remember it vividly, because I then wrote about it for The HuffingtonPost. 

I didn't know at the time I was meeting the most successful female Latin American star of our time; one poised to cross over to American success like her predecessor Selena. I thought I was meeting a cool friend of my friend, mun2 executive Hanna Bolte. Hanna kept telling me about this great friend of hers, Jenni, that was born in my city, Long Beach, Calif., graduated my high school, Long Beach Polytechnic in 1987 and was a single mom that fought adversity to succeed. You're going to love her, she's going to love you, you have to talk to her.

So, I went to a party for a show called "Chiquis 'n Control" about a young Hispanic woman and her friends running a hair salon and living on her own. That girl, nicknamed Chiquis, was Rivera's daughter I would learn, one of five children.

When Jenni took the stage at the event, she talked not of the show, her fragrance line, blue jeans, cosmetics, realty company, her 15 million albums sold... she talked of her pride in her daughter and the love for the rest of her children. She spoke of how fame and money is fleeting, and that all that mattered was la familia, family. 

She brought her manager to the stage, a man she said helped her go from basic poverty in Long Beach to incredible fame, Pete Salgado. Later that night he and I would meet briefly.

Soon after this meeting, Salgado met with me many times over possibilities for me in the entertainment industry and we became friends. He, like Rivera, produced other shows and he was looking for one with a GLBT focus or host. At my first meeting with Pete I could see he was all about family, too. He spoke of how important the bond of friendship was between he and Jenni and that if I were to partner with him, I would be entering that family. He wanted to be sure my head was in the right place, more focused on what is real than the glitz or glam of future success, or else I would be a waste of his time and he didn't have it to waste. You see, every moment he would spend with me would be one taken away from a family member of some kind, and he wanted to make sure I passed muster. 

Like me, Jenni did radio as part of her entertainment life. We've got to get Jenni on your show, you've got to do Jenni's show... that was said to me again just last Friday, the Friday before her death. I kept track of her through Hanna or Pete, always hearing of her adventures, and we would see each other at this-or-that event. 

Sunday morning I was on my morning call with Hanna, we were talking about our lives, as we did and do every morning. We've been friends more than 25 years, each coming from humble beginnings to pretty "big" jobs. When you have a friend that's been in the entertainment industry a long time, it's nice to talk with them because you don't have to explain a lot of things, they get it, they know. The business is unique and to outsiders can seem strange. So it didn't seem odd at all when she said she had to go. It seems there were press reports about Jenni's plane and she had to nip it in the bud or get to the bottom of it.

I got ready to go review the Queen Mary Long Beach's Brunch and Chill extravaganza, grabbed my friend Daniel Charleston, hopped on my newly repaired MP3 250 Gio and had a blast all the way over the ship (Gio is so fun to ride). When you're on a bike, you can't really answer the phone, or even hear it.

When I got off the bike there was a single text message: It's not a rumor, Jenni's plane has vanished, on way to office, will text later.

I stared at the screen. That's not possible. It's a mistake. I immediately felt so much. Salgado had just suffered another major personal loss. He is such a family man, so from that loss to Jenni? No, the universe wouldn't do that to him. Jenni filled Hanna's day at mun2 often, with her various projects, and the two had grown close as well. My friend was speeding off to see what happened not just to one of her acts, but her friend. There would be other extended family members at mun2 and various companies, all feeling the same dread, the same fear, the same loss. 

You see, stars of that size are industries; each touching the lives of so many, employing so many, with so many people's livelihoods tied up in them as well. And outside of the money, when the artist is Jenni Rivera, these people become extended family. She had a big heart, and cared for them all, knowing most by name. This loss wasn't and isn't just professional, it's personal for so many.

I sat in the opulence of the brunch and looked at Danny. He had met Jenni, too. The news was heavy. The waiter asked if I was all right; I seemed shaken. I told him what happened. No one knew yet. The word spread around the ballroom, and the heavily Hispanic staff began to look as I did, shaken. Jenni was loved in the Southern California Hispanic community; she was one of them that made it big, she was their Diva. I raised a glass, and said "Jenni loved a party, she loved life, she loved people and friends. Let's not sit here and be sad about her loss, but celebrate her life, it's what she'd want." Danny raised his glass, and we toasted as the harpist played Christmas music. Silent Night, indeed.

I sent my condolences to Pete via text, knowing he would be deluged with emotions and yes, work, and that I wouldn't hear back. But at least he would know he was in my thoughts. I stayed in touch with Hanna to make sure she didn't get too overwhelmed... breathe, eat, drink water, you're in the eye of a storm, stay strong and healthy. And like the world, I waited for news.

Now, today, Monday, December 10, the facts are in: it was Jenni on the plane, it was her plane, she is gone. And that just doesn't seem possible. 

They'll be plenty asking about the fitness of the plane (it was over 40 years old), past scandals will be spoken about (Jenni had been married three times and was filing for divorce presently) and all that happens when a celebrity dies. 

But all I can think about is Chiquis and the rest of the family, of Hanna and Jenni's mun2 family, of Pete and those that surround him daily and so many others that saw her not as Diva, but as a friend, mother, sister... those that loved her. 

Jenni was a bright light, a positive force, a source of inspiration to so many. She fought adversity and prospered, used her talents in front of the camera and behind to secure a life for herself and her family on her own and on her own terms. She was a strong Hispanic woman, an independent woman that knew the source of her independence was her love and support of so many. She knew the priorities, what was right and wrong, knew what would last and was on the brink of even greater brightness.

I'll miss knowing she's in the world, and I know so many personally that will feel her loss for years and years to come, long after the news cycle is over and the media has moved on. 

Jenni Rivera, the Diva, the mom, the friend, the sister, the boss, the talent, like so many before her, went way too soon and we are not a better planet with her off of it. We all lost something in that plane, the spirit of over coming adversity, the power of hope, the joy of love.

She's irreplaceable and won't be replicated any time soon. 

Like so many today, I join in the feeling of loss and my heart goes to all of those I know, some personally, others unseen, that cared for her as well. 

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