‘Sesame Street’ actor Emilio Delgado dies; beloved handyman Luis was 81

Mr. Delgado joined “Sesame Street” in 1971, in its third season, and remained a mainstay of the cast until he left the show in 2016.

A Mexican-American whose youth straddled the southern border of the United States, Mr. Delgado served as a role model for millions of Latino children on television at a time when Hispanic actors, in his own words, were largely doomed to play “bandits or gang members”.

He gave many English-speaking children their first introduction to Spanish, referencing Big Bird, the canary-yellow avian played for many years by puppeteer Caroll Spinney, as “pájaro”.

One of the most memorable episodes of the 50-plus-year “Sesame Street” series was the 1988 episode when Luis married Maria, played by actress Sonia Manzano. Luis and Maria later had a daughter, Gabriela, who was played for a time by Manzano’s real-life daughter of the same name.

“Luis and Maria’s relationship appeared so real on television that for decades, when fans saw them dating their real spouses, Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano had a lot of explaining to do,” read a tribute. to M. Delgado published by Atelier Sésame after his death.

Mr. Delgado was born on May 8, 1940, in Calexico, California, the eldest of six children raised by a single mother. For part of his upbringing, Mr. Delgado lived with his mother’s family in Mexicali, Mexico, walking across the border every morning to school in Calexico.

“The border was not the way we think borders are or should be,” his wife remarked in a phone interview. “All he said was ‘American citizen,’ and they just smiled and waved him on.”

“I heard him say he had mariachis on one side and rock ‘n’ roll on the other,” she added, describing the bicultural world of Mr Delgado’s youth. “He embraced everything.”

Mr. Delgado was interested in theater from an early age and was regularly encouraged in his artistic pursuits by his mother. When he was in high school, he moved to Glendale, California, where he participated in musical groups and the drama club.

Mr. Delgado served six years in the California National Guard before enrolling at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita to study acting. He appeared in the television drama “Canción de la Raza”, about a Mexican-American family, before joining the cast of “Sesame Street”.

His marriages to Barbara Snavely and actress Linda Moon Redfearn ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 32 years, former Carole Webb Gillespie of Manhattan; a son from his first marriage, Aram Delgado of Penzance, England; a daughter from his third marriage, Lauren Delgado of Tucson; two brothers; two sisters; and a grandson.

A full obituary is forthcoming.

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