Though most easily recognized as a respected actor of stage, screen, and television, Edward James Olmos is also a distinguished humanitarian who spends considerable time and money supporting various causes and charitable organizations in his native Los Angeles. Born the son of an immigrant and a Mexican-American mother, Olmos was raised in an ethnically diverse area of East Los Angeles. Although he was placed in his mother's custody at age seven following his parents' divorce, Olmos kept in close contact with his father. In his teens, Olmos was a rock musician and with his close friend Rusty Johnson formed the Pacific Ocean, a popular group at Sunset Strip area clubs during the late '60s. It was Johnson who suggested Olmos, who by his own admission was not much of a singer, that he try acting.
Olmos spent nine years trying to establish himself as an actor, making his film debut (billing himself as Eddie Olmos) as an extra in Aloha, Bobby and Rose in 1975. Prior to that, Olmos had worked as a bit player and extra in several early '70s television shows ranging from Medical Center to Hawaii Five-O. In 1979, he made a splash on Broadway playing Pachuco in Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit. The play was originally staged in L.A. and represented the first time in which Olmos was paid to act on-stage. During the show's New York run, Olmos earned a Tony Nomination and a Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1982, Olmos reprised the role in Valdez's film version. Early in his film career, Olmos showed a preference for socially conscious films and after his first screen appearance played a leading role in Robert M. Young's Alambrista (1977). In 1982, he played a creepy police detective in Blade Runner. That year, Olmos and Robert M. Young co-founded YOY productions to make socially conscious films such as their first joint effort The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982). Olmos became a star when he played the super-pragmatic Lieutenant Castillo on the hip police drama Miami Vice (1984-1989) and in 1985 won an Emmy for his efforts. He earned an Oscar nomination for his inspirational performance as a determined teacher who helps a troubled group of urban kids excel in math and science in Stand and Deliver (1986). Though his film career was sporadic during the '80s and '90s, Olmos continued to show up regularly in television movies. He made his feature film directorial bow in 1992 with the powerful American Me, a grim look at a reformed gangster's attempts to stay away from the violent, criminal ways of his old cohorts. Other notable 1990s efforts include the 1994 miniseries Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills and Gregory Nava's beautiful My Family/Mi Familia (1995). OImos would spend the coming years making successful runs on TV series like American Family, Battlestar Galactica, and Dexter.
Olmos' humanitarian activities include acting as a United States Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, being the national spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, serving a place on the boards of the Miami and Los Angeles Children's Hospitals, serving as the executive director of the Hazard Education Project, and contributing to the foundation for the Advancement of Silence and Education. For his many good works, Olmos has received Honorary Doctorates from five educational institutions including the University of Colorado, California State University at Fresno, and the American Film Institute in Hollywood.