Born in Spanish Harlem, Erik Estrada was compelled to go to work at an early age to help support his large, fatherless family. While a student at Brandeis High, Estrada was encouraged by his girlfriend to audition for school plays. The acting bug bit hard, and soon Estrada was working overtime in a laundromat to pay his tuition at the American Musical Dramatic Academy. He also served as errand boy/interpreter for film companies working in the neighborhood. His first professional movie appearance was as a street punk in The Cross and the Switchblade; he won the role over 100 aspirants by ad-libbing his audition, convincingly wielding a prop knife as he spoke. His next important film role was Spanish rookie cop Sergio Duran in The New Centurions (1972), and it was this assignment that led to a spate of TV guest appearances. In 1977, he was cast as motorcycle patrolman Frank "Ponch" Poncherello on the hit TV series CHiPs In 1979, he was nearly killed in a stunting accident; fortunately, he made a complete physical recovery, and remained with the series until its 1983 cancellation. After the demise of CHiPs Estrada's acting career went into decline, though he has enjoyed a career renaissance of late as the heartthrob star of Spanish-language TV soap operas. In 2005 Estrada lent his distinctive voice to the animated Adult Swim series Sealab 2021, which earned him cult status among the shows many devoted fans, and subsequent acting roles have included appearances on Life, According to Jim, and Meet the Browns. Manwhile, in 2007, Estrada earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
by Hal Erickson biography