In 2000, the Bronx's own Christopher "Big Pun" Rios' life was cut short due to a heart attack. In his very short life, 28 years in all, he left behind a long legacy that includes an historic double-platinum debut album, Capitol Punnishment, which made him the first solo Latin rapper to achieve platinum status. Unfortunately, the legacy isn't the only thing the big man left behind.

Meet Liza Rios, the widow of Big Pun and the mother of his three children. Liza, who will be signing copies of the recently released documentary DVD Big Pun: The Legacy tonight at Basement Mix Records in Brooklyn, caught up with us over the phone to discuss her relationship with Pun, the struggle with his weight, her current living situation and more.

Liza knew Big Pun before he was either Big or Pun. The two were junior high school sweethearts.

"We met in the 8th grade, we went to the same junior high school." Rios adds, "We probably never would have known each other if it weren't for him getting left back in 7th grade."

While Pun was a tough kid who sold drugs and was able to survive the streets of the South Bronx on his own, it was his sense of humor that she says kept the relationship going. "He made me laugh since day one. I’ve always been a serious person and he made me laugh."

This lighter side of Pun, the big man with the rough exterior who was always making the people laugh is covered extensively thanks anecdotes from some of hip-hop's biggest names in the DVD, which was directed by Vlad Yudin.

Also revealed in the film is Pun's first taste of big money, which actually did not come from rapping. At age 18, he was awarded $500,000 from a law settlement as the result of a childhood accident. Rios says her husband blew through that money very quickly. "Pun sucked with money and finances. He blew it just trying to live it up."

It was also during this time in Pun's life that he began to put on weight. "For the first year of our marriage I didn’t cook. It was IHOP for breakfast, Bennigans for lunch and Red Lobster for dinner. That’s when the weight began." Rios adds, "It was a vicious cycle. Food was his drug of choice. He’d eat and then get depressed and eat some more." She also says he bought a car, which caused him to cut down on his physical activity.

She also attributes Pun's childhood for his weight issues. "He had a lot of mental problems. He was abused a lot as a child. There was a lot of issues with his mom that were never dealt with." Rios adds, "He had a love/hate relationship with his mom, and the same was true of our relationship."

Liza Rios speaks at the premiere of Big Pun: The Legacy
Earlier this year, Liza appeared on the "E! True Hollywood Stories: Rappers Wives", where she revealed that she was the victim of domestic violence from her husband. She tells us, "A lot of people ask me about the abuse and ask why I spoke up." Rios adds, "I had to speak about it for him, myself, for my children. I want to educate people. I had to speak up because I didn’t want my son to become a wife beater, I didn’t want my daughters to grow up thinking it was acceptable."

This news of a man who is beloved by his fans did not go over well with everyone. "Some people say I messed up his image."

Among those who have been critical of Rios' decision to go public with this aspect of her husband's life is Fat Joe, the rapper who discovered Pun. Following an interview that Liza did on Hot 97 last month, Joe called in to offer his side of the story telling the DJs, "She’s basically disrespecting his legacy.”

Joe and Liza also don't see eye to eye on her current financial status. At the time of our interview, Ms. Rios spoke to us on the phone from an undisclosed homeless shelter.

Liza and her family moving into a homeless shelter, which was first learned last month in an interview, was a shocking revelation that spread quickly among hip-hop and urban music blogs. The reaction to the startling news was disbelief. How could the wife of a multi-platinum recording artist end up in a homeless shelter?

"The average reader would think I got millions," says Ms. Rios, who moved into the homeless shelter on May 29th. She adds, "I never got that. I got $125,000 total."

"I got evicted, ironically on Pun’s birthday - November 9th, 2007," says Ms. Rios. "I was living back and forth with family. I was trying to never come this route. I was doing everything in my power to avoid this. Now that I’m here in the shelter, I regret not doing it sooner. I've met a lot of great people in the shelter, there lots of mothers and families here, not what I was expecting."

Liza claims that her husband's royalties are not going where they belong. "This is not about the industry, this is not about me trying to be famous. I don’t care about the record sales. I don’t care what the industry thinks about me. My husband worked hard and he deserved the royalties he’s supposed to get."

According to Ms. Rios the lack of income from Pun's music was never an issue before her husband passed away. "When Pun was alive he was getting money all the time and nobody ever had to go looking for royalty checks."

Rios asks, "He doesn't make any money off of iTunes or ringtones. Where are the checks going now?"

Liza believes the key to this mystery is Fat Joe. For more details regarding the claims of missing royalties, has a very detailed discussion breaking down the numbers with Ms. Rios.

Despite all that she has been through, Rios says she remains upbeat. "I try to take everything that comes my way and see the positive side of it." She says, "I'm blessed. In this time, I’m just going to work on myself and leave it in God’s hands." Liza informs us, "I’m working on a few things. I’m working on something pretty big but can't really say anything about it yet." Along with her secret project, she also works on the Big Pun Foundation and is writing a book.

In regards to her three children, Liza says, "They’re tremendously strong." She adds, "My life was difficult, but I don’t know if I would be able to be in their shoes. They’ve had to deal with a lot; having a father who was famous and dealing with all of the criticism and the questions. I think it would be a very difficult life for a kid, but they’ve dealt with it."

Lastly, Liza asks Big Pun fans to "support projects that support Big Pun." Among those projects are the Big Pun: The Legacy DVD which is on sale now.

Liza Rios and Director Vlad Yudin will be signing copies of the DVD tonight at 7pm at Basement Mix Records in Brooklyn.

By Tim Hammer, Special to Gothamist and LAist Contributor