Emilio Delgado dies: ‘Sesame Street’ actor who played Luis for 45 years was 81

Emilio Delgado, the actor and singer who for 45 years was a warm, familiar presence in children’s lives and a rare Latino face on American television as the owner of a Luis hardware store on “Sesame Street “, died Thursday.

His wife, Carol Delgado, told The Associated Press that Emilio Delgado died of blood cancer multiple myeloma at their home in New York. He was 81 years old.

As Luis, Delgado, a Mexican American, was able to play an ordinary, non-stereotypical Latino character at a time when such portrayals were rare on television, for adults or children.

“There really was no representation of real people,” Delgado said in a 2021 interview on the YouTube series “Famous Cast Words.” “Most of the roles I’ve come out for were either bandits or gang members.”

That changed with “Sesame Street,” where a diverse cast interacted with a diverse group of kids, as well as Jim Henson’s creations Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, and Grover.

Delgado joined the show from its third season in 1971. He said the producers took up his suggestion to sprinkle Spanish terms into the script.

“The first time I saw Big Bird walk, my line was, ‘Big Bird! ‘” Delgado said in the 2021 interview. “But I didn’t say ‘Big Bird’, I said ‘pájaro!’”

After a brief meeting in which Delgado explained that “pájaro” meant “bird”, the producers decided to keep it.

“I called him ‘pajaro’ every time I saw him,” Delgado said.

Delgado was born in 1940 in Calexico, California, near the US-Mexico border and grew up a few miles away in Mexicali, Mexico.

From his home, he could hear music into the night from a pair of beer gardens across the street.

“I remember falling asleep to the sound of mariachi music,” he said in a 2011 interview on the public television series “Up Close with Patsy Smullin.”

He was enchanted and decided to become a performer, singing as much as possible and appearing in school plays, with the full support of his proud parents.

As a young man, he moved to Los Angeles to become an actor and was unlucky. He got an out of the blue call from the producers of “Sesame Street” in New York.

After an interview with “Sesame Street” producer Jon Stone, in which he spoke to Delgado but didn’t ask for any sort of audition, he got the job.

“He didn’t want actors,” Delgado said in the 2021 interview. “He wanted real people.

He will remain on the show for 45 years, an integral part of the childhood of generations of children, and for Latino children a rare character who looks like them.

“Sesame Street” would also allow him to sing regularly, and sometimes to play his guitar.

Luis Rodriguez (adult characters had surnames, though they were rarely used), would marry the show’s other prominent Latina, Maria Figueroa, played by Sonia Manzano, in a ceremony on the show in 1988 The storyline allowed the series to teach children about love, marriage, and childbirth.

“Luis and Maria were the first Latinos I ever saw on TV,” Deadline TV reporter Rosy Cordero said on Twitter. “They were an integral part of my family. They led the way.”

He will leave the series when his contract is not renewed during a retooling in 2016.

Figueroa made frequent appearances in theater and other television series during his time as Luis.

He played a recurring character on the newspaper drama “Lou Grant” from 1979 to 1982 and made several guest appearances on “Quincy ME”, “Falcon Crest”, and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”.

Delgado was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in late 2020, but was still making appearances and giving interviews in 2021, until his health began to decline.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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