Emilio Delgado, the actor best known for his beloved role as “Fix-It-Shop” owner Luis Rodriguez on “Sesame Street,” has died, his representative confirmed to Variety. He was 81.
“We are saddened by the news of Emilio’s passing,” Robert Attermann, CEO of A3 Artists Agency, said in a statement. “Emilio was an immense talent who brought so much joy and smiles to his fans. He will be missed by many and we know his legacy will live on. Our thoughts are with his loved ones, including his wife, Carole.”
A Mexican American born in California and raised in Mexico, Delgado got his start as an actor in the late 60s working in summer stock theater. His first ever screen credit was in the Mexican soap opera “Canción de la Raza.” In 1970, he enrolled as a student in the California Institute of the Arts. The summer before his second year at the school, he interviewed with Jon Stone, the head producer and writer of “Sesame Street,” and was hired as a new cast member for the third season. Delgado’s casting was part of an initiative to improve the Spanish-language segments of the show, bringing more Latino cast members onto the program.
As the kind-hearted shop owner Luis, Delgado would star in “Sesame Street” for 44 years — from 1971 to 2015, and is credited in 428 episodes. In addition to the neighborhood’s iconic muppets like Big Bird and Elmo, his most frequent scene partner was Sonia Manzano, who portrayed Luis’ girlfriend Maria on the groundbreaking children’s show. The two characters got married in an episode that aired in 1988, and welcomed their daughter Gabi to Sesame Street a year later. On the show, Delgado frequently led Spanish-language learning and Hispanic cultural lessons, and often sang and performed guitar during musical segments.
Delgado stoped appearing regularly in “Sesame Street” episodes after his contract wasn’t renewed due to a 2016 re-tooling of the series from the production company. He made one final appearance on the show in 2017, in the episode “Having a Ball,” and continued to represent the series along with his long-time co-stars at public events. In 2019, he appeared in the “Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration” special. In 2021, he was interviewed in the “Sesame Street” retrospective documentary “Street Gang,” which looked at the early years of the celebrated program. In interviews with the filmmakers, Delgado discussed the impact “Sesame Street” had on his life and the importance the character had in challenging common portrayals of Latino men on television.
“It was very difficult, in that time, to find meaningful work as Latino actors,” Delgado said in the film. “I don’t remember ever reading for any kind of a positive character. The only roles that I could find were gang members or drug addicts. I realized I had gotten a role on television that was a role of a Latino, Mexican-American, who was like a regular person. He was part of the neighborhood, he had his own business. It was a role that hadn’t been shown before.”
When “Sesame Street” wasn’t taping, Delgado continued to make appearances in television. Notable guest spots he had included “Hawaii Five-O,” “Quincy M.E.,” “Law & Order,” “Cupid,” “House of Cards” and “The Get Down.” He also had a recurring role as a news editor in the Emmy-winning drama series “Lou Grant.” In 2018, he provided voiceovers for the popular video game “Red Dead Redemption 2.” He also starred in theater productions in Los Angeles and New York, including a 2020 modern adaptation of “Don Quixote,” “Quixote Nuevo,” that was written by Octavio Solis and premiered at the Alley Theatre.
At the time of his death, Delgado served on the board of directors at the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, an LGBTQ+ safe space and community activism center dedicated to honoring the civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin.
Delgado is survived by his wife Carole and his two children.