Whatever Happened To Buddy Holly's Widow?

Music fans all over the world were shocked and saddened when, in 1959, early rock 'n' roll innovator Buddy Holly died in a plane wreck. According to All That's Interesting, Holly, along with other popular musicians from the time like Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, boarded a plane in Iowa on their way to their next show in Fargo, North Dakota. None of them, including the pilot, would make their destination. In a twist of fate, country singer Waylon Jennings was also supposed to also be on that plane, but he gave up his seat to The Big Bopper, who was unwell at the time, and chose to take the bus instead (via Biography).

The loss of Holly and the rest of these musicians left music fans mourning, even to this day. One person who acutely felt the loss was Buddy Holly's wife at the time, Maria Elena Holly. Much has been written about the "day the music died," as the plane crash was immortalized in the Don McLean classic "American Pie," according to Wide Open Country. Whatever happened, though, to Buddy Holly's widow? Shockingly, Maria Elena Holly could have been on that plane as well if it weren't for one important detail to the story that makes the death of Buddy Holly even more tragic than it already was.

She was pregnant

As reported by Wide Open Country, Maria Elena Holly (then Maria Elena Santiago) met Buddy Holly in 1958 at a New York music publishing company where she worked. At that point, Holly had split with his band, The Crickets, and relocated to New York to develop his solo career. It was a whirlwind romance between Holly and Santiago, according to Amomama. Holly was Santiago's first date ever, and he proposed before the evening was over. Despite some misgivings, she said yes to the man four years her junior, and the couple were married back in Holly's hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

"My life turned around when that young man came through those doors," Maria Elana later said, "It was a mutual admiration society right away. I just fell, like boom ... [H]e fell the same way" (via MassLive.) Two months later, Holly and Santiago had high hopes for their future. As Holly's career took off, Maria Elena often joined him on the road as his secretary, manager, or roadie. The marriage was kept secret so as not to upset Holly's female fans, according to "Icons of Rock: An Encyclopedia of the Legends Who Changed Music Forever, Volume 1," by Scott Schinder and Andy Schwartz. Similarly, Maria Elena could have been with her husband on the fateful tour when he died, but Holly insisted she stay home because she was pregnant.

The final phone call

Buddy Holly called to check in on his young wife at several points during what was dubbed the "Winter Dance Tour" with Jennings, Valens, and The Big Bopper. The whole thing seemed cursed from the start. "People were getting sick, the bus was breaking down," Maria Elena recalled. "Buddy took over and said 'This has to be changed.' When they reached the Surf Ballroom it was very cold and there was a lot of snow. He spoke to me but he did not tell me he was taking a small plane" (per MassLive). The sudden death of her husband was such a shock Maria Elena tragically miscarried, stayed away from his funeral, and has never even visited her late husband's grave.

"I just could not accept it," Maria Elena later explained. Soon, though, fans were writing to the widowed young woman, seeking any information they could find about the late musician. It was then that Maria Elena realized her role as a caretaker for her husband's legacy. "I knew fans wanted to know more about Buddy, what he had in mind," she said, "where he was going with his music and I realized I was the only person left in his life who would know all about that. So that's what helped me, and I decided to continue up to this date."

Telling his story

Maria Elena Holly had three children with her second husband, and she is now divorced. Currently, she lives in Dallas, Texas and continues to manage Buddy Holly's story, including images and other forms of intellectual property. In 2010, she also co-founded The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation (per Wide Open Country.) It remains difficult for Maria Elena to listen to her late husband's music, "[B]ecause it's like Buddy being here," she said, and although Maria Elena Holly appreciates the Don McLean reference, she contends the music of Buddy Holly is immortal. "Buddy may not be here," She said, "but the music has not died. It is still alive and well," (via MassLive.)

Buddy Holly's marriage was not without controversy, however, even after his death. "Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue? A Memoir by Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue," published in 2007 by Peggy Sue Gerron, alleges that the early rock classic, "Peggy Sue Got Married" was not about Gerron's relationship with The Crickets' drummer (as was previously believed). Instead, Gerron claims it was written by Holly about a love triangle between Gerron, Maria Elena, and Holly himself — a drastic rewrite of Buddy Holly lore, as the Daily Mail reports. Maria Elena brought a lawsuit against Gerron to stop the publication of the book, via the Guardian. "It's very interesting that this woman makes up all these stories," Maria Elena said.