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Jimmy Smits: 1955—: Actor Biography

Almost Bombed Out Of Hit Show, Returned To Television Stardom, Worked To Further Latino Arts

Jimmy Smits: 1955—: Actor.

Jimmy Smits broke new ground on television in the 1980s with his portrayal of an impassioned, principled attorney on the Emmy-winning NBC drama series L.A. Law. As Victor Sifuentes, the Brooklyn-born actor represented one of the first positive, recurring images of a Hispanic character in the history of prime-time network television. He went on to spend four seasons on the ABC series N.Y.P.D. Blue, a role that once again drew immense critical praise, as well as a number of devoted fans. "Smits, who is tall, dark and drop-dead gorgeous," remarked Austin American-Statesman journalist Diane Holloway, "has gone out of his way over the years to temper his obvious sex appeal by playing serious, often flawed characters."

Born on July 9, 1955, Smits grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a solidly working-class neighborhood, and spent time with family in Puerto Rico during his youth. Smits is of Puerto Rican descent on his mother's side. His father was from Dutch Guiana, now Surinam, and managed a silk-screening factory. As a teen, Smits developed an ardent interest in theater. At Brooklyn's Thomas Jefferson High, he quit the football team in order to devote more time to acting in school plays and musicals. He majored in theater at Brooklyn College, but his degree plans were almost interrupted by unexpected parenthood: he was just 20 years old when his daughter, Taina, was born. He married her mother five years later. "I was always committed to the responsibility of having a child," Smits said of the dilemma in an interview with People's James Grant. "But I was too young to get married."

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