His Friendship 'Echoed Through Generations'

Longtime 'Sesame Street' actor Emilio Delgado dies at 81
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 11, 2022 7:05 AM CST

He broke barriers as a rare Latino figure on American TV and went on to win an Impact Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition. But the generations of kids who grew up watching him might simply remember his warm presence and smile. Emilio Delgado, the actor and singer who played fix-it shop owner Luis on Sesame Street for 45 years, died Thursday at his home in New York City just over two years after he was diagnosed with the blood cancer multiple myeloma, according to wife Carol Delgado, per Deadline. He was 81. Born in 1940 in Calexico, Calif., and raised over the border in Mexico, Delgado began his TV career on Mexican-American soap opera Cancion de la Raza in 1968.

He recently told Famous Cast Words that he auditioned mostly for roles as "bandits or gang members" before joining Sesame Street in its third season in 1971, per the AP. "There really wasn’t any representation of actual people," he said. On Sesame Street, Delgado didn't have to play a stereotype. He said producers welcomed his suggestion to add Spanish terms to the script. "The first time that I saw Big Bird walk on, my line was, 'Big Bird,'" Delgado said in 2021. "But I didn't say 'Big Bird,' I said, 'pajaro.'" Luis later wed Latina character Maria Figueroa, played by Sonia Manzano, on the show in 1988. "Luis and Maria were the first Latinos I ever saw on TV," tweeted Deadline TV reporter Rosy Cordero. "They were a huge part of my family. They paved the way."

"A beloved member of the Sesame family for over 50 years, his warmth and humor invited children to share a friendship that has echoed through generations," Sesame Workshop said, per Deadline, noting "Emilio proudly laid claim to the 'record for the longest-running role for a Mexican-American in a TV series.'" He also appeared in series including Hawaii Five-O, Person of Interest, Law & Order, and House of Cards and in theater productions, including the world premiere of Octavio Solis' Quixote Nuevo at the California Shakespeare Theater in 2018. As a singer, he performed at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. Out of the spotlight, he worked with many charity groups and served on the board of directors at the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice. (Read more obituary stories.)

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