Dennis Hernandez was only in his son Aaron’s life for 16 years, but the Bristol, Connecticut janitor loomed long over his son’s life choices.
Years after Dennis Hernandez’s sudden and untimely death, Aaron’s brother revealed to the Boston Globe that Dennis had subjected his children to beatings and abuse. Whether that helped drive Aaron Hernandez’s tragic life trajectory from NFL star to convicted murderer is a plausible partial explanation. Aaron Hernandez’s life is the subject of a new Netflix series that explores his complex psychology.
Hernandez also had CTE, and researchers said it was the most severe case they had ever seen in someone his age. He committed suicide by hanging in a Massachusetts prison cell in 2017, where he was serving time for the murder of his fiancee’s sister’s boyfriend, Odin Lloyd.
But what happened to his father? What was the cause of death of Dennis Hernandez?
Here’s what you need to know:
Dennis Hernandez Died in the Hospital After a Routine Hernia Operation
Aaron Hernandez’s parents were Dennis Hernandez, who was of Puerto Rican heritage, and Terri Valentine Hernandez, who is Italian-American, according to MassLive. Aaron was born in Bristol, Connecticut. Terri is still alive, and she was a fixture at her son’s murder trial.
According to USA Today, Aaron was 16 years old when Dennis Hernandez died at age 49 in 2006 after a routine hernia surgery. “It was more like a shock. Everyone was close to my father, but I was the closest,” Hernandez says. “I was with him more than my friends. When that happened, who do I talk to, who do I hang with? It was tough.”
A Sports Illustrated interview with Aaron’s brother Jonathan says Dennis was 49 “when he went in for routine hernia surgery.” The day after it, though, Dennis “said he wasn’t feeling well.” That was unusual because he never complained. Jonathan told SI he left the hospital crying because he worried something bad was about to happen.
“The last hours of the father’s life are a blur to the son: infection, intensive care, tubes coming out of Dennis’s body, doctors yelling ‘Clear!’ as they employ the shock paddles, blood dripping from the patient’s nose, Terri and the boys resting their heads on Dennis’s chest, crying, their tears welling up around his cross pendant,” Sports Illustrated wrote.
How did Dennis’s death change things for Aaron, who his brother describes as devastated by Dennis’ death?
“That’s the million-dollar question, how my father—if he was still alive, how everything would have changed,” Jonathan says to SI. “I think it would have been completely different. But I don’t know. That’s a fairy tale.”
However, a Boston Globe profile on Hernandez’s childhood described his father as abusive. “Aaron and his older brother were often beaten and brutalized by their dad. Aaron didn’t cry at his father’s funeral, and people took note. He kept it all inside,” the Globe reported.
To the Globe, Jonathan detailed severe beatings that he and Aaron received at the hands of their father. “I picked up the phone once to call, to seek help,” the brother said to the Globe, revealing the family abuse for the first time. “And his response was, ‘Call them.’ And he handed me the phone, and he said, ‘I’m going to beat you even harder, you and your brother, and they’re going to have to pull me off of you when they knock down the door.’”
Jonathan told The Globe that homosexuality was not accepted by Dennis; the Netflix documentary argues that Aaron had relationships with men and that his struggles with that could have contributed to his challenges.
Aaron explained how this all affected him in a prison call, telling his mom Terri: “I was the happiest little kid and you f****d me up. I lost my father, had to go to college, I had nobody. What the f**k did you expect I was going to do? Become a perfect angel?”
What Did Dennis Hernandez’s Obituary Say?
According to Dennis’s obituary, “Dennis Hernandez, 49, husband of Terri (Valentine) Hernandez of Bristol, passed away on Friday, (January 6, 2006) at Bristol Hospital. Mr. Hernandez was born on February 9, 1956 in Bristol, a son of the late Bienvenido and Josephine (Garcia) Hernandez. Dennis was employed at Bristol Eastern High School and took great pleasure in watching his sons play sports and attending their games.”
The obit continued, “In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two sons, Dennis ‘DJ’ Hernandez and Aaron Hernandez both of Bristol; his brother and sister-in-law Vito and Denora Hernandez of Bristol, his twin brother and sister-in-law David and Lisa Hernandez of Bristol; his sister and brother-in-law Ruth and Andre Valderrama of Bristol; his nieces Kizzy and Emily Hernandez; Davina and Krystal Hernandez and Tanya and Jennifer Valderrama.”
Dennis had been an athlete too, in the 1970s, with the University of Connecticut.
In 2009, Aaron was playing for the University of Florida. His part Puerto Rican heritage earned him the nickname “Chico.”
“We call him Chico,” then offensive guard Mike Pouncey, told USA Today, which said that Hernandez’s paternal grandparents were from Puerto Rico. “He’s the only Puerto Rican on the team. When you call him Aaron, he doesn’t really respond. We got a new equipment manager and started calling him Chico, too, and Hernandez got kind of jealous. He said, ‘I thought I was the only Chico.'” According to Buzzfeed, this was a reference “to the ’70s sitcom Chico and the Man, about a jokey, self-effacing Chicano and his crotchety, benignly bigoted boss.”
According to the Boston Globe, which wrote the seminal profile on Hernandez’s childhood, Dennis was known as the “King” and worked as a janitor. Aaron never recovered from his father’s sudden, untimely death.
Both parents were arrested, according to The Globe; Dennis on a cocaine buying accusation, and Terri for accusations that she was part of an “underground sports gambling bookie operation, out of the family home.”
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