Delgado, who played fix-it shop owner Luis on beloved children’s show, was a rare Latino face on US TV
Actor and singer Emilio Delgado, the warm and familiar presence in children’s lives for 45 years as fix-it shop owner Luis on Sesame Street, has died.
His wife, Carol Delgado, said he died from the blood cancer multiple myeloma at their home in New York. He was 81.
As Luis, Delgado, a Mexican American, got to play an ordinary, non-stereotypical Latino character at a time when there were few such depictions on TV, for adults or children.
“There really wasn’t any representation of actual people,” Delgado said in a 2021 interview on the YouTube series Famous Cast Words. “Most of the roles that I went out for were either for bandits or gang members.”
That changed with Sesame Street, where a diverse cast interacted with a diverse group of children, along with Jim Henson creations Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo and Grover.
Delgado joined the show in its third season in 1971. He said the producers embraced his suggestion to sprinkle Spanish terms into the script.
“The first time that I saw Big Bird walk on, my line was, ‘Big Bird’,” Delgado said in the 2021 interview. “But I didn’t say ‘Big Bird’, I said, ‘pajaro’.”
Delgado was born in 1940 in Calexico, California, near the US-Mexico border and raised a few miles away in Mexicali, Mexico.
From his home, he could hear music into the night from a pair of beer gardens across the street.
“I remember going to sleep to the sound of mariachis,” he said in a 2011 interview on the series Up Close with Patsy Smullin.
As a young man, he moved to Los Angeles to become an actor but had little luck. He received a surprise call from the producers of Sesame Street in New York.
After an interview with producer Jon Stone, who spoke to Delgado but didn’t ask for any kind of audition, he got the job.
“He didn’t want actors,” Delgado said in the 2021 interview. “He wanted real people.”
He would remain on the show for 45 years – an integral part of the childhood of generations of children, and for Latino kids, a rare character who looked like them.
His warmth and humour invited children to share a friendship that has echoed through generations,” the Sesame Workshop said in a statement. “At the forefront of representation, Emilio proudly laid claim to the ‘record for the longest-running role for a Mexican American in a TV series.’ We are so grateful he shared his talents with us and with the world.”
Luis married the show’s other prominent Latina, Maria Figueroa, played by Sonia Manzano, in a ceremony on the show in 1988.
“Luis and Maria were the first Latinos I ever saw on TV,” Rosy Cordero, a television reporter for Deadline, said on Twitter. “They were a huge part of my family. They paved the way.”
Delgado left the show when his contract was not renewed during a retooling in 2016.
He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma late in 2020, but was still making appearances and giving interviews in 2021, until his health started to decline.