Actor, voice artist, and musician Emilio Delgado (Theater 71), best known for his work on the beloved children’s television series Sesame Street, passed away on March 10, 2022, in Manhattan, New York. He was 81.
For more than four decades, Delgado played Sesame Street’s Luis Rodriguez, the owner of resident repair business The Fix-It Shop. He introduced the residents of Sesame Street to Latino culture, often strumming a guitar as he sang in both English and Spanish. The role also involved a notable romantic storyline with Maria (played by Sonia Manzano), who worked with him at The Fix-It Shop, leading to their characters’ eventual marriage and birth of their daughter Gabriela.
Delgado was also integral to bringing bilingual content to the series, serving as the coordinator of the Sesame Street Workshop’s Bilingual Talk Force. A release from Sesame Street Workshop, the nonprofit behind the show, noted that Delgado held the longest-running role for a Mexican American actor in a television series. These and other contributions to Sesame Street and beyond have cemented Delgado’s legacy as a “pioneering” Chicano actor.
Delgado was born in California border town Calexico, where he split his time across the border in Mexicali with his extended family, and spent his teenage years in Glendale, California. After six years in the California National Guard, Delgado enrolled at CalArts; according to The New York Times, Delgado joined the Institute’s inaugural theater class in 1970.
Prior to joining the Sesame Street cast in 1971, Delgado played in various television shows and theatrical stage productions, and even served as the artistic director of the Barrio Theatre of East LA. In a March 2021 interview with ALL ARTS’ YouTube series Famous Cast Words, he noted the difficulty of finding non-stereotypical roles at the time: “Most of the roles that I went out for were either for bandits or gang members.” Watch the interview above.
During Sesame Street’s off-season, Delgado joined the casts of several popular primetime television series, including House of Cards, Hawaii Five-O, Quincy, The Michael J. Fox Show, and on the various iterations of Law & Order. In 2018, Delgado returned to the theater stage to star in the titular role of playwright Octavio Solis’ Don Quixote, Quixote Nuevo.
At the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration, then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed Oct. 15 the city’s official “Emilio Delgado Day.” de Blasio honored Delgado’s impact:
“At a time when, if you saw diversity on television, it often was with stereotypes, and not the good kind of stereotypes. Emilio was one of the people who broke the mold, created a positive role model, for everyone, but particularly for children who didn’t get to see or hear people who looked like them and spoke like them.”