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Erik Estrada: 1949—: Actor

Won Leading Role In Chips

Next up for Estrada was a key role in the 1972 film production of Joseph Wambaugh's The New Centurions, in which he played rookie cop Sergio Duran. Key roles in Airport 1975, Midway, and Trackdown followed, but Estrada's biggest break came in 1977 when he was cast as California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop Frank "Ponch" Poncherello in NBC's weekly cop drama CHiPs. Although the role was a key one from the start, the audience response to Estrada was so positive that his role was significantly expanded not long after the series debuted on September 15, 1977. In short order, Estrada's popularity had eclipsed that of Larry Wilcox, who played motorcycle patrolman Jon Baker and was originally seen as the star of the series. Not surprisingly, this contributed to tension between Estrada and Wilcox and transformed the show's set into something of a battleground. As Estrada recalled in his autobiography, "The set was divided into two camps, Larry's people and my people. The factions tried to get the best of each other. As soon as the director called 'cut,' we'd head off in different directions without saying another word to each other."

Although Estrada was now far from the streets of Spanish Harlem, he retained the tough exterior he had been forced to develop to survive as a boy. Determined to see that his interests were stoutly defended against the predations of both agents and studio executives, Estrada developed a reputation as a difficult actor and a stubborn negotiator. Involved in a bitter salary dispute, the actor was missing from a number of the CHiPs episodes in the fall of 1981, replaced temporarily by gold medal-winning Olympian and aspiring actor Bruce Jenner. When the salary dispute was eventually resolved, Estrada returned to the show and Jenner disappeared. However, his strained relationship with fellow cast members continued throughout the show's run. Larry Wilcox eventually found working with Estrada too difficult, and he left the show before its final season. Wilcox was replaced by actor Tom Reilly, who played Bobby Nelson, Ponch's new partner. Before the final season was out, however, Reilly, too, had fallen out of favor with Estrada and was replaced for the show's last few episodes by Bruce Penhall.

Dubbed one of "the 10 sexiest bachelors in the world" by People magazine in November of 1979, Estrada admitted frankly in his autobiography that attracting women had never been a problem. "I'd take one girl out on a date and end up with another before the night was over," he wrote. However, he also admitted candidly that experience had shown him he was not always the best judge of character in the women he dated. His first two marriages—to Joyce Miller and Peggy Rowe—ended unhappily, although his marriage to Rowe produced two sons, Anthony Eric and Brandon Michael-Paul. Estrada is currently married to Hollywood sound technician Nanette Mirkovich, with whom he has a daughter, Francesca Natalia. The couple and their children live in a hilltop home in the San Fernando Valley, not far from Universal Studios and Burbank Airport.

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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