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Erik Estrada: 1949—: Actor

Won New Popularity With Latinos

After six seasons, the public's appetite for CHiPs and its stars had apparently been sated. In the face of falling ratings, NBC cancelled the show at the end of its 1982-1983 season. Working during hiatus from CHiPs, Estrada had kept his movie career alive with appearances in such films as I Love Liberty and The Line. He'd also won critical praise for his portrayal of a young boxer in the made-for-TV movie Honey Boy, which he also produced. With his hit series cancelled, Estrada returned to New York, where he starred in an off-Broadway production of True West. He also managed to win his fair share of roles in film and television productions—most of them largely forgettable—throughout the remainder of the 1980s and into the early 1990s.

Things turned around for Estrada in 1993, when he was picked to star in a telenovela produced by Televisa, the Mexican-based producer of numerous soap operas for the Spanish-speaking television audience. In Dos Mujeres, Un Camino, Estrada played Juan Daniel Villegas, better known as Johnny, an easygoing Tijuana truck driver in his forties. Happily married to Ana Maria, Johnny meets and falls in love with Tania, a small town girl determined to become a famous singer. To further complicate Johnny's life, his wife and Tania subsequently meet and become close friends. The show quickly became a big hit among Latino audiences, propelling Estrada to stardom with a whole, new audience. Although Estrada had grown up in Spanish Harlem and spoke some Spanish, the show's producers decided he needed to improve his fluency in the language and enrolled him in classes before shooting began.

Estrada's role in Dos Mujeres brought him renewed popularity on a scale he hadn't enjoyed since CHiPs.It also gave him a new appreciation for his Latin heritage, about which he wrote extensively in his autobiography. "I wish I could say that I was aware of my heritage, proud of my people, and ready to be an example for everyone who saw me as one of their own. But the truth is, for a long time I never really thought of myself in terms of my cultural credentials. I guess the best indication of that is the fact that, up until a few years ago, I never spoke anything more than pidgin Spanish. I never sought out spokesman status for causes that concerned Latinos. I never even thought of myself as breaking down race barriers in Hollywood. I was just happy to be working, whether I got the job for my talent or my skin tone."

Additional topics

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