Thousands of people had their hearts broken over hearing about the untimely death of Heavy D. One such person was Rosie Perez. The beloved actress got to know Heavy D and forge a solid friendship with him over the years. Here, Perez gives XXL her heartfelt memories of how she became friends with Heavy and how she was hit with the shocking news of his passing. —As told to Mark Lelinwalla

I met Heavy because Andre Harrell, who was President of Uptown Records at the time, hired me to choreograph the music video “We Got Our Own Thing” and subsequently the Heavy D Tour. This was either 1990 or 1991. My first impression of him was he was very gentlemanly and very respectful and fun and very business-like. Our friendship then evolved quite naturally. He even dated a member of my family! We were very close and the closeness was immediate. He was a very lovable guy, very much his own man. He didn’t adhere to the latest trends, he set them. And [he was] a family man, if you met Heavy and he liked you, you met his family. On tour that’s when we got really, really close. I thought he was a supreme dancer. He had immense amount of ability and physicality that you wouldn’t think of somebody his size. At the time, he lost an immense amount of weight but his weight was never a factor and it was impressive. Very, very impressive that if you showed him something once he got it. I spent much more time with his dancers, not because they were less talented, it’s because they were less focused. He was very, very much a focused man because he enjoyed what he was doing; he didn’t see it as work. Heavy was always on time, he was already ready. He wasn’t your typical rapper filled with bravado and having to prove to be a superstar. He was very comfortable in his role as an entertainer. That’s how he presented himself in his business. Everything was easy, everything was comfortable, everything was fun because everything was in place. When he showed up for tour and got on the tour bus it was all about practical jokes because he made room for that because everything else was set.

I remember [on the set of In Living Color] – he had this thing with splashing water on me and I couldn’t stand it because it messed up my hair and he knew it; he loved it. He’d love to see me— see my response. When I roll with the punches with a good practical joke – and I retaliate by putting a sock full of make-up power and running into the room and hitting him. The staff of In Living Color was like 'Who is this girl?' You know, it was so much fun. That’s who he was. It was like, "Ok, we got that out of the way, now let's have fun.”

I [heard the news of his death when I] was driving home from the veterinarian from picking up my dog and my best friend Julie, who also worked at In Living Color, called me up and her first words were, "Oh my God, are you okay?" and she was screaming and crying. "Why wouldn’t I be okay," [I asked] and then she was like, "Oh my God, you didn’t hear?" and then she told me. I literally had to – I couldn’t say anything, I was just quiet, I was stunned and shocked. I had to pull over because it was very, very sad and very, very shocking because he was a great person, a very lovable person. He always treated you with hugs and say, "Don’t forget about me, I love you. I love you very much, don’t forget to call, to check in with me," and it was heartbreaking, you know. Especially for hip-hop to lose a gentleman and then the acting roles. He ventured into acting and he was fucking awesome. At lot of rappers become actors and they just become extensions of the persona that they put out there as an artist. With him he was an actor, he let all of Heavy D go away and became the person he was hired to play, and that’s a sad thing to lose as well. Everyone’s saying about his music career, but let's not forget about his acting. He didn’t have any big major roles, but I remember watching him on Broadway with you know, Lawrence Fishburne. He held his own. He was amazing. Overall, he was a family man. He gave it his all, gave it all as a family man and that’s what’s more heartbroken – heartbreaking it's just really, really sad. 'Cause his only thing he would say is “I’m living for my daughter right now” and that’s just a beautiful thing. So my heart goes out to his family."