Though perhaps best remembered for playing the suave, mysterious Mr. Roarke on the popular television series Fantasy Island (1978-1984), and for his car commercials in which he seductively exhorted the pleasures of the upholstery ("Rich, Corinthian leather") in his distinctive Spanish accent, Ricardo Montalban once played romantic leads in major features of the '40s and '50s. He also had a successful career on-stage.
Born Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino in Mexico City, Montalban spent part of his youth in the U.S. The tall, dark, handsome, and curly haired actor first worked as a bit player on Broadway before returning to Mexico in the early '40s and launching a film career there. By 1947, he had returned to the States and signed with MGM. That year, Montalban played his first leading role opposite Cyd Charisse in the romantic musical Fiesta (1947). It would be the first of many roles in which he would play a passionate singing and dancing "Latin Lover." He and Charisse again teamed up as dancers in the Esther Williams musical water extravaganza in On an Island With You (1948). At one point, it was a toss-up between Montalban and fellow MGM "LL" Fernando Lamas as to which was more popular. It would not be until 1949 before Montalban had the opportunity to play a non-romantic role as a border agent who gets revenge upon the killers of his partner in Border Incident. His second serious role in Battleground (1949) ranks among his best performances. By the late '50s, he had become a character actor, often cast in ethnic roles, notably that of a genteel Japanese Kabuki actor in Sayonara (1957). He had occasionally appeared on television since the late '50s, but did not appear regularly until the mid-'70s. In 1976, Montalban earned an Emmy for his portrayal of a Sioux chief in the television miniseries How the West Was Won. In the early '70s he was part of a touring troupe that read dramatic excerpts from Shaw's Don Juan in Hell. In 1982, Montalban reprised a role he had made famous on the original Star Trek TV series as the ruthless Khan to star in the second Star Trek feature, The Wrath of Khan. In the '80s, Montalban only sporadically appeared in feature films. His television career also slowed, though he occasionally appeared on series such as The Colbys (1985-1987) and Heaven Help Us! (1994). Montalban has written an autobiography, Reflections: A Life in Two Worlds (1980). Confined to a wheelchair after a 1993 spinal operation left him paralyzed from the waist down, Montalban remiained in good health despite being in constant pain, and continued to play an active role in promoting Nostros - a non-profit organization founded by Montalban in 1970 and dedicated to improving the image of Latinos within the entertainment industry.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s Moltalban's career recieved something of a second wind when he began performing vocal work on such animated television series' as Freakazoid!, Dora the Explorer, and Kim Possible, with a role as the kindly grandfather in Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over even giving the wheelchair-bound actor an opportunity to triumphantly rise once again thanks to the magic of special effects. Additional vocal work in the 2006 animated family adventure The Ant Bully continued to keep Montalban busy despite his physical limitations.
His brother, Carlos Montalban, was also an actor.