Emilio Delgado, the actor and singer who for 45 years was a warm and familiar presence in children’s lives and a rare Latino face on American television as fix-it shop owner Luis on Sesame Street, has died aged 81.
His wife, Carol Delgado, told the Associated Press that Delgado died from the blood cancer multiple myeloma at their home in New York.
As Luis, Delgado, a Mexican American, played an ordinary, non-stereotypical Latino character at a time when such depictions were few and far between on TV.
“There really wasn’t any representation of actual people,” Delgado said in a 2021 interview on the YouTube series Famous Cast Words.
“Most of the roles that I went out for were either for bandits or gang members.”
That changed with Sesame Street, where a diverse cast interacted with a diverse group of children, along with Jim Henson creations Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo and Grover.
Delgado was born in 1940 in Calexico, California, near the US-Mexico border and raised a few kilometres away in Mexicali, Mexico.
As a young man he moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, and had little luck. He received a call out of the blue from the producers of Sesame Street in New York.
After an interview with producer Jon Stone, in which he spoke to Delgado but didn’t ask for any kind of audition, he got the job.
“He didn’t want actors,” Delgado said. “He wanted real people.”
He would remain on the show for 45 years, an integral part of the childhood of generations of children, and for Latino kids a rare character that looked like them.
“At the forefront of representation, Emilio proudly laid claim to the record for the longest-running role for a Mexican-American in a TV series. We are so grateful he shared his talents with us and with the world,” the Sesame Workshop said.
Luis Rodriguez married the show’s other prominent Latina, Maria Figueroa, played by Sonia Manzano, in a ceremony on the show in 1988.
Delgado left the show when his contract was not renewed during a retooling in 2016.
Figueroa made frequent appearances in the theatre and on other TV series.
Delgado also played a recurring character on Lou Grant from 1979 to 1982, and made multiple appearances on Quincy ME, Falcon Crest, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.