By Dalia Espinosa, Correspondent
Bob Morales, the older brother of rock legend Ritchie Valens, and who made a name for himself from Pacoima to Northern California during his own turbulent past, died Saturday night in his Central Coast home after battling prostate cancer. He was 81.
Many might remember Morales as portrayed by actor Esai Morales — no relation — in the 1987 film “La Bamba,” the biopic about Valens’ life. Morales was the rugged, mustached man who proudly rode his motorcycle and sported a tough, leather-jacket-clad exterior.
“Farewell, my big brother. You gave me so much to work with and be grateful for…,” Esai Morales posted on Facebook, with a photo of his muse sporting a Mohawk haircut and standing next to a motorcycle, a symbol of the gritty life he led.
Bob Morales was, indeed, a kind of wild child, according to his family, whose life took a hard turn on Feb. 3, 1959, when an Iowa plane crash claimed Ritchie’s 17-year-old life.
It was the same crash that killed rock stars Buddy Holly and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Back home, in the family’s Pacoima neighborhood, Morales, whose brother by then had found fame with rock hits like “La Bamba,” was shaken to his core.
Every day he was reminded of his brother, and the memories brought tears, according to relatives, who described a life that went from the depths of addiction to the peaks of simply trying to be a good father and do good by other people.
“My dad was a wonderful man,” said his daughter Connie Morales, 47. “My dad didn’t judge anybody. My dad was humble. He gave everybody a chance — because he knows someone gave him a chance — when he was going through his addiction, his drinking. Someone gave him a chance, and he just paid it forward.”
Bob Morales was raised in the San Fernando Valley and attended San Fernando High School.
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During the 1950s, Morales and his migrant family worked temporarily in San Jose agricultural camps picking produce and loading them onto trucks. Among the family was a young Ritchie, who shared a close and playful bond with his brother Bob, despite the fact that they were born to different biological fathers. Their mother, Concepcion Reyes, and Ritchie are both buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery.
Morales met Rosie Caballero in Northern California. Eventually, she followed Morales to the San Fernando Valley, where they had seven children.
“He was a very wild dude,” said his daughter Bly Olivia Morales, 39. “I mean, he did some really crazy stuff, but we just adore him.”
As a teenager, Morales constantly got into physical altercations with other students, and at one point landed in juvenile detention. He also admitted to an abusive relationship with his first wife, Rosie, according to a Lowrider Magazine article in 2015.
“I used to drink all day, and I used to tear the house down. I also got a little abusive with Rosie (his girlfriend at the time),” he told Lowrider Magazine.
His daughter said for years he was “not that great of a dad,” because he did not know how to be one. But as time went by, he proved his greatness, she said.
His chance to prove it came when he moved away from the L.A. area, and back to the Bay Area.
In the 1970s, he moved to Santa Cruz County and would live there for nearly 50 years.
He met Joanie Morales while working at a rehabilitation center. He married her at the addiction-treatment center in 1979, and they raised more children.
“When people are drunks or addicts or whatever they are, most people will not accept [them] any other way,” said his wife. “[They think] that’s how they are forever, and Bob definitely proves to me and probably millions of others, people do change and for the better.”
At his Watsonville home, he helped raise some of his grandchildren when times became challenging for his daughters.
“[My son] grew a bond with my dad,” said his daughter Connie, who recently moved to Palmdale from Pacoima, where she and her seven siblings were raised. “He graduated school out there. He saw my dad every day. He was there when my dad passed and walked him out when they picked him up.”
But that wasn’t the only grandchild who was raised by Morales.
Alexander Ortega, 28, also shared memories of his grandfather, whom he described as a young soul.
“I’m basically one of his children,” he said as some relatives chuckled and agreed.
Morales is survived by his eight children and more than 30 grandchildren.
On Wednesday afternoon, multiple motorcycle clubs came together at Watsonville Plaza in Santa Cruz County for a last ride, a tribute to Morales who was an avid motorcycle and car enthusiast.
He stayed wild until the end.
Morales, a mechanic who loved cars and speeding down California’s roads, didn’t have a driver’s license his last 25 years. And he was pulled over by police many times, only to be given warnings once they realized who he was.
He even wore his trademark Mohawk with pride when he died Saturday night.
Funeral services are pending.
Santa Cruz Sentinel reporter Michael Todd contributed to this story.
This story was amended to clarify information on Rosie Cabarello.