Erik Estrada: 1949—: Actor
Grew Up In Spanish Harlem
Estrada was born Henry Enrique Estrada on March 16, 1949, in New York City, the son of Renildo and Carmen Estrada. Estrada's parents divorced when he was only two years old, and for most of the first decade of his life, he, his mother, and brother and sister lived with his grandfather in the Spanish-speaking ghetto of East Harlem. Although he saw his biological father only sporadically, Estrada as a boy discovered by accident that the older Estrada was hooked on drugs. As he wrote in his autobiography, My Road from Harlem to Hollywood, "I accidentally opened the bathroom door and saw him sitting on the toilet. He had his belt around his arm and a spoon on the counter. I can still smell the burned match and see the anger mixed with shame in his eyes." He credited his mother with keeping him out of trouble and teaching him important lessons about self-respect, faith in God, morals, and perseverance. As a single mother, she was forced to dance in strip clubs to earn the money she needed to keep her family together. In her absence, young Erik spent a great deal of time with his grandfather and at the age of ten felt a deep sense of loss when this important father-figure died.
As a pre-teen, Estrada seriously considered a career as a policeman but turned instead to acting after joining the drama club at Brandeis High School on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Although he had joined the group mostly to impress a female classmate in whom he'd become interested, Estrada soon found himself playing the lead role in a play the club was staging. In his biography, he wrote of the transformation that followed: "I was hooked on acting from that time on. I experienced emotions I had never felt before. I still don't understand it all—I only know that I need to perform. It must be my way of giving to others and giving to myself at the same time."
After high school Estrada worked at a variety of jobs while continuing to pursue his interest in acting. For a while he worked overtime in a neighborhood laundromat to earn tuition money for his studies at New York's American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). He also worked briefly as a security guard and in 1968 joined an AMDA dance troupe that paid him only $38 a week but provided him with free lunches and, more importantly, free tuition. On his own, Estrada sought out jobs as a gofer/interpreter for film companies working in his Spanish Harlem neighborhood. Estrada's first big break came when he managed to win the pivotal role of Nicky in the film production of The Cross and the Switchblade. The aspiring actor managed to convince director/screenwriter Don Murray and lead actor Pat Boone that he was right for the role by ad-libbing his audition while convincingly wielding a prop knife.
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyErik Estrada: 1949—: Actor Biography - Grew Up In Spanish Harlem, Won Leading Role In Chips, Won New Popularity With Latinos