Vallejo and Escobar's affair benefited the careers of both the crime lord and journalist. It also provided Vallejo with a treasure trove of secrets and dirt.
In 1982, Virginia Vallejo caused something of a national sensation in her home country of Colombia. The 33-year old socialite, journalist, and TV personality had starred in a series of ads for Medias Di Lido pantyhose, which captivated the nation and brought her to the attention of someone who would soon outrank her in terms of celebrity: Pablo Escobar.
Despite having a wife, Escobar reportedly declared “I want her” after seeing the famous commercial and ordered his associates to arrange a meeting with the television star. He extended an invitation to her to visit his Nápoles villa in 1982 that she accepted.
Vallejo came from a prestigious family with members being a finance minister, a general, and several European nobles who could trace their heritage back to Charlemagne. She also already had an established career by the time she met Escobar.
Having made her television debut somewhat reluctantly back in 1972, she was soon known across South America and was hosting her own news program when she first met with the man who would become her lover back in 1982. Escobar was not just smitten by a pretty pair of legs; he realized Vallejo’s influence could be of tremendous use to him.
Vallejo was immediately charmed by the crime lord, who, despite his bloody lifestyle and fierce reputation, was known for his affability and sense of humor. Vallejo would later write about this duality in her book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar (which was later turned into a film starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz). For his part, Escobar seemed equally enthralled, although there has always been debate about the extent of his true feelings for her. Many people believed he was simply using Vallejo to promote his public image, which she certainly helped him do.
When the two first met, Escobar was only a minor public figure, but over the course of their five-year relationship he would transform into “the most notorious terrorist in the world.” Vallejo’s reputation as a prestigious journalist was crucial in helping Escobar establish his role as a “man of the people,” which, indeed, is still how he is remembered by many of the poor in Medellín today. Vallejo herself stated that the reason she fell in love with him was “he was the only rich man in Colombia who was generous with the people, in this country where the rich have never given a sandwich to the poor.”
In 1983, a year after the pair had first met, Vallejo interviewed Escobar on her new program. The interview showed the cartel leader in a favorable light and he talked about his charity work Medellín Sin Tugurios or Medellín Without Slums. This television appearance not only brought him to national attention, but helped to establish his philanthropic image with the public. When major newspapers hailed him as “the Robin Hood of Medellín,” he celebrated with a champagne toast.
Vallejo’s relationship with Escobar ended in 1987. According to Escobar’s son, the affair ended badly after Escobar learned he was not her only lover. Escobar Jr. recalled that the last time he saw her was outside the gate of one of his father’s estates, where she remained sobbing for hours because the guards refused to let her in on their boss’ orders.
Vallejo, unfortunately, found that as the power and popularity of her former lover waned, so did her own. She wound up being shunned by her former elite friends and blacklisted from high social circles. She disappeared into relative anonymity until she suddenly resurfaced in the United States in July of 1996.
Escobar had always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the elites of Colombia: politicians would turn a blind eye to his crimes and accept his money. Vallejo, having been a member of the cartel’s inner circle, was privy to most of these secrets, and years later decided to expose the elites who had lauded then shunned her.
In a tell-all interview on Colombian television, Vallejo “held up an unflattering mirror to Colombian society” and named “the legitimate businesses that launder drug earnings, the elite social clubs that open their doors to drug lords, and the politicians who exchange favors for briefcases filled with cash.” She accused several high ranking politicians of benefiting from the cartels, including ex-presidents Alfonso López, Ernesto Samper and Álvaro Uribe. She described all of their sordid relations with Escobar, including the request from a former justice minister to have a presidential candidate killed.
Virginia Vallejo had exposed the hypocrisy of Colombia’s elite (which had been demonstrated by her own social exile), but in doing so endangered her own life. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration secreted her to the United States, which offered her political asylum, and is where she has remained ever since, fearful of the repercussions of returning to her homeland.
Enjoy this look at Virginia Vallejo? Next, learn about what happened to Maria Victoria Henao, Pablo Escobar’s wife. Then read about Pablo Escobar’s death and the final phone call that brought him down.