Pepe Smith was strumming his guitar in the early hours of Jan. 28 at home in Cainta, Rizal, when he complained of heavy chest pain.
By the time his partner, Rose Acuña, had taken him to Arnaiz Hospital, he was dead, having suffered cardiac arrest.
Smith was 71 — quite a ripe old age considering the hard and fast life he had spent as a rock star.
Though widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of Pinoy Rock, he was in fact, the music genre’s essence.
The son of an American serviceman stationed at Clark Air Base with an Angeles, Pampanga, resident, Smith personified Pinoy Rock, heavily influenced by the blues and the Rolling Stones (he was a Mick Jagger-like figure in the mid-1960s) but singing Filipino lyrics.
Rizal Park concert
Our paths crossed in 1993, when my friends, the owners of ’70s Bistro, asked me to locate Smith because they wanted the Juan de la Cruz Band — Smith, Mike Hanopol and Wally Gonzalez — to play in a big concert at Rizal Park in Manila.
I found him in jail.
Lawyer Wijohn Reyes of ’70s Bistro volunteered to look into Smith’s case. Smith was acquitted and hours after his release, I became his manager (with a friend, Arthur Pimentel).
And so I met his family. At the time, his partner — after a brief marriage to Agnes Arellano and relationships with Gigi Laguyan (that produced daughter Queenie) and Becca Padilla (another daughter, Sanya) — was Acuña, who lived with their kids Bebop, Delta and Desiderata at Smith’s old home in Kamuning, Quezon City.
At his peak, Smith said he was earning P3.5 million a year as an endorser of a beer brand.
Money, health woes
But in recent years, one incident after another hit him hard financially and, worse, affected his health. Suddenly he couldn’t talk straight — his speech was slurred as a result of a stroke in 2015.
He had a cataract, his vision reduced to blurry images, and couldn’t afford treatment. I couldn’t bear not to help, after optometrist Nella Sarabia called me up about it.
Apparently, Smith had lots of fans who were only too glad to help. When I asked one of them, ophthalmologist Noel Lacsamana, for assistance, Smith had “brand-new eyes” when he turned 71 on Christmas Day.
The last time we talked via text, I said he should write his memoirs. His reply sounded scary, although it started cheerily: “Early morning sunrise best of this Sunday, Poch!!! Am in a quagmire… Help, SOS! I’m sinking!!!”
That was 5:32 a.m. of Jan. 6. Acuña said Smith was fine until Jan. 28, at 5:30 a.m.
The wake for Smith starts on the night of Jan. 29 at Loyola Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque City.