Antonio Fargas Biography
The career of actor Antonio Fargas has lasted over 40 years and has encompassed film, television, and live theater. He is most widely recognized, however, for a single role: that of Huggy Bear on the 1970s television series Starsky and Hutch. That single role brought Fargas into millions of living rooms around the United States and the world. Decades after the show's run ended in 1979, the image he created was strong enough to make him into a cult hero among artists in the hip-hop genre—which didn't even exist at the time the show aired. Unlike other actors strongly identified with a single role, however, Fargas succeeded in branching out into new endeavors, gaining both steady work and, on occasion, critical acclaim.
Antonio Fargas was born in New York City, to a Puerto Rican father and a Trinidadian mother, probably on August 14, 1946 (dates from 1943 to 1947 appear in various sources). He and his ten siblings grew up in a housing project on Manhattan's Lower West Side. Fargas's father was a garbage man who later worked in public relations, and his mother, Fargas told Boston Herald reporter Paul Sullivan, "was a great domestic engineer.… There was always bread on the table, not in abundance, but we always had what we needed."
When Fargas was a sophomore in high school in 1961, he noticed a story in New York's Amsterdam News saying that auditions were being held for an independent film called Cool World. He got the part. Around the same time, Fargas was a member of a youth group called Harlem Youth Opportunities Limited that offered theater programs to aspiring actors. After receiving instruction from actor Robert Hooks in Hooks's apartment, which wasn't far from that of Fargas's family, he got a part in an off-Broadway stage production called The Toilet in 1963.
Early in his career, Fargas was known primarily as a stage actor. He made the first of what would become a lifetime's worth of trips to England in 1965 to appear in the play The Amen Corner, and he won positive reviews back in New York two years later when he appeared as Scipio in the original Broadway production of The Great White Hope, a play about the life of boxer Jack Johnson. Just 20 years old, Fargas convincingly played the part of a 90-year-old witch doctor. Fargas also made notable appearances in a 1968 New York Shakespeare Festival production of Romeo and Juliet and in the 1969 play Ceremonies in Dark Old Men.
Dividing his time between New York and Los Angeles, Fargas began to break into movies. He had parts in some of the popular black-oriented films of the early 1970s, like Shaft (1971), Cleopatra Jones (1973), and Foxy Brown (1974). In 1974 he also played Quickfellow in Conrack, a film made from author Pat Conroy's autobiographical novel about his experiences teaching in an African-American community on one of South Carolina's coastal islands. Fargas also garnered roles in episodes of such hit television series as The Bill Cosby Show, Police Story, Kojak, and Sanford and Son.
Fargas had appeared in the 1972 film Across 110th Street, directed by Barry Shear, and when Shear was signed to direct the pilot episode of the ABC network's Starsky and Hutch in 1975, he cast Fargas in the role of Huggy Bear. The role wasn't initially intended to be an ongoing part of the show, but producers noticed the chemistry that quickly evolved among Fargas and stars David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. Fargas ended up remaining with the cast through the entire run of Starsky and Hutch, which left primetime airwaves in 1979 but lived on for years in syndication.
Huggy Bear was a bar owner and streetwise police informant who directed tips to police officers Starsky and Hutch. Dressed to the nines in a leather trench coat that was widely imitated during the run of the series, he was often surrounded by beautiful women; his status as a pimp was suggested but never directly stated. Huggy Bear was charismatic, fashionable, a bit lovable, and unfailingly entertaining. Such traits anticipated the rise of rap music's "gangsta" variant, and thus it was no surprise that Fargas was later cast in films such as the Wayans Brothers' I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), even if he took some criticism from activists of the 1970s for perpetuating stereotypes of blacks in the entertainment industry. Fargas was matter-of-fact about his role, telling Mark Grossi of the Providence Journal that "I was a character actor and it was a typical role for a black actor at the time. It was good for me because it helped my career." The role of Huggy Bear was played by rapper Snoop Dogg in a 2004 film based on the series.
The end of Starsky and Hutch barely slowed Fargas's career. He returned to the stage for a time in the 1980s, explaining to the Providence Journal that "I hadn't been on stage for a long time. Your acting muscles atrophy when you don't use them." He had the lead role in a 1985 play called Toussaint, Angel Warrior of Haiti, which traced the life of the 19th-century Haitian independence leader Toussaint L'Ouverture. That year he also appeared in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and in 1986 he had a role in a Philadelphia production of The Amen Corner, the play that had taken him to England as a teenager.
Fargas continued to act in films, and in the 1990s he kept up a steady schedule of television guest star appearances in such series as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, Living Single, and The Steve Harvey Show. Married and divorced twice, he moved in with his partner, real estate executive Sandi Reed, in the late 1980s, raising her two children and Fargas's two from a previous marriage. One son, Justin Fargas, became a football star with the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League. The early 1990s offered real challenges for Fargas. He conquered alcohol and tobacco addictions. The 1994 earthquake centered north of Los Angeles trapped he and his wife in different parts of their Northridge, California, home, with each thinking the other had been killed, but Fargas broke down a door and they were reunited.
Traveling to England as often as four times a year, Fargas had the chance to test his survival skills once again in 2002 as a member of the cast of the British reality television show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! He also toured in a stage version of the film The Blues Brothers that had been rewritten to include a Huggy Bear role, and he teamed with David Soul in a serious play called The Dead Monkey. His theatrical career rolled on in the U.S. as well as he starred in 2003 in a St. Louis production of the acclaimed The Gospel at Colonus, an African-American adaptation of a drama by ancient Greek author Sophocles. And Huggy Bear remained a household name after three decades.
The Cool World, 1963.
Across 110th Street, 1972.
Cleopatra Jones, 1973.
Foxy Brown, 1974.
I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, 1988.
The Celluloid Closet (documentary), 1995.
The Toilet, 1963.
The Amen Corner, 1965.
The Great White Hope, 1967.
Romeo and Juliet, 1968.
Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, 1969.
Measure for Measure, 1985.
Toussaint, Angel Warrior of Haiti, 1985.
The Amen Corner, 1986.
The Dead Monkey, 1998.
The Blues Brothers, 2000-02.
The Gospel at Colonus, 2003.
Starsky and Hutch, 1975-79.
I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, 2004.
Numerous guest television appearances, late 1980s and 1990s.
Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Vol. 33, Gale, 2001.
Boston Herald, July 13, 1998, p. 16.
Chicago Sun-Times, April 4, 2001, p. 62.
Daily Mirror (London, England), December 2, 2004, p. 8.
Houston Chronicle, March 22, 2004, p. 12.
Independent (London, England), September 12, 1998, p. 60.
Providence Journal, October 11, 1985, p. D1.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 30, 2002, p. D12.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 14, 2003, p. F4.
USA Today, November 4, 1997, p. C1.
Voice (London, England), July 2, 1996, p. 29; March 29, 1999, p. 41.
"Antonio Fargas as Huggy Bear," Starsky and Hutch, www.starskyandhutchonline.com/antonio_fargas.htm (January 20, 2005).
Antonio Fargas Online, www.antoniofargas.net (January 20, 2005).
—James M. Manheim