Erik Estrada: 1949—: Actor Biography
Grew Up In Spanish Harlem, Won Leading Role In Chips, Won New Popularity With Latinos
Erik Estrada, the star of one of American television's biggest hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s, traded in Hollywood stardom in the early 1990s for a brand new career as the leading man in Latin TV's highest-rated telenovela (soap opera). Estrada, a native of Spanish Harlem in New York City, made his professional film debut as a gang member in The Cross and the Switchblade, released in 1970. This was followed by a handful of television and motion picture roles, leading eventually to his breakthrough role as California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop Frank "Ponch" Poncherello on NBC's hit series, CHiPs. The series, which spotlighted the exploits of Ponch and his partner Jon Baker, played by Larry Wilcox, premiered on September 15, 1977, and ran on NBC until July 17, 1983. The role of Ponch, originally conceived by scriptwriters as sort of a second banana to Wilcox's lead role as Jon Baker, soon had to be expanded in response to the immense popularity of Estrada among the show's viewers. For much of their time together, the relationship between Estrada and his co-star was strained, to say the least.
After CHiPs was cancelled by NBC in 1983, Estrada returned to his acting roots in New York City, starring in a successful limited engagement in the off-Broadway production of True West at Greenwich Village's Cherry Lane Theater. Although he stayed busy throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, none of the scores of roles he played on television and in motion pictures during this period managed to click with audiences as he had with his portrayal of Ponch on CHiPs. He next hit pay dirt south of the border when in 1993 he accepted a leading role in Mexican television's hit soap opera Dos Mujeres, Un Camino. Although produced by Mexican television, the show was a huge hit with Latino audiences throughout the Americas and won Estrada a new wave of popularity among Spanish-speaking televiewers. Estrada, who is of Puerto Rican descent and grew up in Spanish Harlem, didn't speak Spanish well enough to take on the role, so he took lessons to increase his fluency in the language.
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