With his dark good looks, bright white teeth and a twinkle in his eyes, Erik Estrada, famous worldwide for his role as “Ponch” on the motorcycle cop drama “CHiPs” (NBC, 1977-1983), was the kind of 1970s pop icon they just do not make anymore. More important than the teeth and the hair and the preteen Ponch mania, was the simple fact that Estrada’s appeal transcended ethnic lines at a time when Hispanic lead actors were not commonplace. After fading into relative obscurity for a decade or so, he resurfaced as an anti-drug advocate and rode a wave of retro popularity into TV reunions, music video appearances and a regular role on a Spanish daytime soap opera.
Of Puerto Rican decent, Henry Enrique Estrada was born March 16, 1949 and raised in the an area of the Upper East Side of Manhattan known as Spanish Harlem. His parents divorced when he was two years old, and he rarely saw his father afterward. His grandfather helped raise him in his place. Estrada struggled with navigating the world of street gangs, drugs and crime, all while trying to hold his family together from an early age. His street experience led to his first career choice, which was to be a New York City police officer. Fate stepped in when he signed up for his high school drama club – for the express purpose of meeting a girl. Before he knew it, he landed the lead role in a school play, finding himself hooked on acting.
In 1970, Estrada was hand-picked by actor and director Don Murray to play a leading role opposite Pat Boone in the feature film, “The Cross and the Switchblade.” The part was followed with a series of low-budget action movies such as “Chrome and Hot Leather,” in 1971, followed a year later with “The Ballad of Billie Blue” and “The New Centurions” with George C. Scott.. His first major movie role was in the disaster flick staple, “Airport 75,” (1975), in which he portrayed the 747 jumbo jet navigator, Julio.
As his career moved along, Estrada made numerous guest appearances on a string of iconic TV dramas, including “Hawaii 5-0” (CBS, 1968-80) in 1973, “Emergency” (NBC, 1972-79) in 1974, “The Six Million Dollar Man” (ABC, 1974-78) in 1975 and “Baretta,” (ABC, 1975-78) in 1976.
Then came his break of a lifetime. In an abrupt shift from working actor to overnight superstar, Estrada landed the co-starring role of Officer Francis “Ponch” Poncherello (an Italian!) on the highly rated “CHiPs” opposite Larry Wilcox as his partner, Officer Jon Baker. The show, which revolved around the weekly adventures of two L.A.-based California Highway Patrol officers – on motorcycles, which was a bit of a twist from the usual – lasted six years – longer than critics ever dreamed it would. Next to the milk-toast Wilcox, Estrada easily stole the show as the flashy, ever smiling lady killer – a popularity contest which would later fuel tabloid speculation that the two lead actors were at odds with one another. Even if you wanted to, you could not escape Estrada-mania. His image appeared on everything from school lunchboxes to the cover of Tiger Beat magazine, appealing to both genders and all ages. Estrada often stated that one of the reasons for the success of “CHiPs” – particularly for children and parents – was the fact that unlike other TV cop dramas of the day, the characters never drew their weapons.
At the peak of his fame and in the midst of the so-called Wilcox feud, Estrada nearly lost his life during an on-set accident that made news around the world in 1979. While filming a scene on his motorcycle – Wilcox and Estrada did a good amount of the bike riding themselves, save for any dangerous stunts – the actor was thrown from his 900-pound motorcycle, which promptly landed on him, sending him to the hospital for 10 days. Given a 50/50 chance of survival, the actor fractured several ribs and broke both wrists. At 5'10'' and 160 pounds, he was an inch shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Wilcox. But his physical fitness routine helped him rebound from his injury: 240 sit-ups and 120 push ups on a daily basis. As a tribute to the recuperating star, Estrada was voted as one of "The 10 Sexiest Bachelors in the World" by People magazine that November.
Following a salary dispute with NBC, Estrada left "CHiPs" in the fall of 1981 and was briefly replaced by 1976 Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner. With the show’s cancellation after its sixth season, the well-coiffed hunk watched his begin to fade. He appeared in a string of low-budget action films throughout the 1980s, such as “Where is Parsifal?” (1983), “Hour of the Assassin” in 1987 and “Caged Fury” in 1989. He made a return to series television in a 1987 three-part episode of cop drama “Hunter” (NBC, 1984-1991), where he played Sgt. Brad Navarro, and he made a handful of guest appearances on such shows as “Cybil” (CBS, 1995-98) and “L.A. Law” (NBC, 1986-1994).
Estrada first began to capitalize on the nostalgia for his former fame with a cameo appearance in the cop movie spoof “Loaded Weapon 1” (1993), as well as a series of Taco Bell commercials around the same time, lampooning his former pop idol status as motorcycle cop.
For a Hispanic man who never learned to speak Spanish, it was with great irony that in 1993, he landed his first big post-Ponch role on the all Spanish-speaking soap opera, “Dos Mujeres, Un Camino,” (“Two Women, One Road”). For the role of Johnny, Estrada had to take 30 straight 8-hour days of Berlitz Spanish lessons before he could begin the show, but was fed his soap opera lines over an earphone during production anyway. Originally slated for 100 episodes, the show went to 400-plus episodes, became the biggest telenovela in Latin American history and revived Estrada's nowhere career at that time.
With guest appearances on “Baywatch” (NBC, 1989-2001) and its spoof, “Son of the Beach,” (FX, 2000-01), as well as voice-overs on “King of the Hill” (Fox, 1997-) (as a as a Mexican judge on a 1998 episode) and “The Family Guy.” (Fox, 1999- ) (as “Ponch” on a 1999 episode). With nostalgia shows like “I Love the 70s” on VH1, Estrada continued to ride a wave of renewed popularity – so much so that in 1999, he appeared opposite former co-star Wilcox (the rift long since healed) in “CHiPs 99,” a reunion movie on TNT.
In 2001, Estrada landed a regular role on the daytime drama, “The Bold & the Beautiful,” (CBS, 1987- ) as Eduardo Dominguez. He continued to find work, playing a Spanish game show host on a 2002 episode of “Lizzie McGuire” (Disney Channel, 2001-04) and landed a recurring voice on the cult animated hit, “Sealab 2021,” where he again spoofed himself, playing a Latino first mate clearly modeled after Ponch. He also appeared as himself in an episode of “Scrubs,” (NBC, 2001- ), and in the Eminem video, “Just Lose It.” Like many past A-listers (or permanent D-listers), Estrada parlayed his iconic status by joining the cast of the VH1 reality series, “The Surreal Life” (VH1, 2003- ) during its second season in 2004, enjoying close quarters with the likes of such “celebs” as MC Hammer and Corey Feldman. In 2006, he landed a guest starring role as Mr. Right on an episode of “According to Jim” (ABC, 2001- ).
Estrada parlayed his police officer street cred by signing up in 2000 to be the face of “D.A.R.E.” – a police-affiliated, anti-drug program for schoolchildren. Always working, he also appeared as spokesman for several real estate enterprises in a series of infomercials.
`Officer' Estrada trades obscenities
Former "CHiPs" star Erik Estrada got into an expletive-laced shouting match with a man who called him Emilio Estevez amid the filming of a reality television series.
Estrada, who was sworn in as a reserve officer last month for CBS Corp.'s "Armed & Famous" show, was in an ambulance with Randall R. Sims, 53, when the exchange unfolded Wednesday night.
The 57-year-old actor entered the ambulance after being asked to remove handcuffs from Sims, who had been stabbed in the leg during a domestic dispute. After addressing Estrada as Estevez, another Hollywood actor, Sims said he didn't want to appear on the show, which also stars La Toya Jackson, Jack Osbourne, Jason "Wee Man" Acuna and Trish Stratus.
The confrontation erupted after Sims, who led a successful push in 2004 to rename a Muncie street in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., told Estrada he knew nothing about King and had only been in Muncie "for two days," The Star Press reported Friday.
Estrada told Sims he'd been in town for six weeks and said he grew up in Spanish Harlem, a rough Manhattan neighborhood King mentioned in his landmark 1967 speech calling for an end to the Vietnam War
An exchange of obscenities followed before Estrada left the ambulance.
Muncie Police Chief Joe Winkle told The Associated Press on Friday that he hadn't seen footage of the confrontation, but had spoken with Estrada.
"We talked about it last night with him, the fact that that's something we encounter all the time, that you have to get a little thicker skin," Winkle said. "With any new officer we would tell them, `Hey, that's not how we conduct ourselves, don't get caught up in the moment, we're the ones who are professionals.' That's what we did with Erik and I think he truly understood that."
Well, that is pretty interesting. Suppose that footage--edited, of course--will make it to the screen? Playing a character all those years didn't teach him a thing. :lol
Wow, I never thought I'd actually be excited to see Ponch in something again, but if it means watching armed and famous in order to see him get gruff with some real Muncie folk, I'm gonna have to do it.
Uh yeah, I'll take that bet. The people behind Armed and Famous would have to be loco NOT to use it.
Originally Posted by ShrinkingViolet;2196417;
Do you think an international television hunk star has a potential to be a cop? I can’t believe that Erik Estrada is one of the cast members in the upcoming show on CBS “Armed and Famous”. They are going to be trained to become cops. Do you think he can beat bad guys with just a pretty face?
I think he's kinda dumb. He should be doing what Jack Osbourne is doing, keeping his mouth shut and following orders. Instead he's trying to give advice at every turn. He arrested someone on the show last night and he couldn't even tell them why he was arresting them because he either couldn't remember or couldn't remember the terminology. Isn't that illegal? Don't you have the right to know why you are arrested before you get in the police car?
Erik Estrada brings me back a lot of CHiP'S memories. Ponch is an awsome MAN!!!!:yay :up
My favorite part from last night's episode is when the random old lady has Erik Estrada sign her fake boob. Did you see the part where Erik did say he was the only Latino on the Muncie P.D? I'm sure there are other Spanish speaking police officers in Muncie, but it made for good TV for Eric to show up.
Dude, what are you talking about? Hunk? He was MAYBE a hunk like 30 years ago. Now he's like my grandpa's age. You think he has a "pretty face"? Yeah, umm, I'm not sure I agree with your taste in men. But hey, whatever floats your boat. As for his performance, and yes, I stress "performance", on Armed and Famous, yeah I'd say his acting abilities are about as "pretty" as his craggy old face.
Originally Posted by itsmeitsme;2200749;
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