’Sesame Street’ actor Emilio Delgado dies; beloved handyman Luis was 81

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Mr. Delgado joined “Sesame Street” in 1971, during its third season, and remained a mainstay of the cast until he left the show in 2016.

A Mexican American whose early life straddled the U.S. southern border, Mr. Delgado served for millions of Latino children as a television role model at a time when Hispanic actors, in his words, were largely consigned to playing “bandits or gang members.”

He gave many English-speaking children their first introduction to Spanish, referring to Big Bird, the canary-yellow avian played for many years by puppeteer Caroll Spinney, as “pájaro.”

One of the most memorable episodes in the more than 50-year run of “Sesame Street” was the 1988 installment when Luis married Maria, played by actress Sonia Manzano. Luis and Maria later had a daughter, Gabriela, who was played for a period by Manzano’s real-life daughter by the same name.

“Luis and Maria’s relationship appeared so real on television, that for decades since, when fans saw them out and about with their actual spouses, Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano had a lot of explaining to do,” read a tribute to Mr. Delgado released by the Sesame Workshop after his death.

Mr. Delgado was born May 8, 1940, in Calexico, Calif., the eldest of six children raised by a single mother. During part of his upbringing, Mr. Delgado lived with his mother’s family in Mexicali, Mexico, crossing the border by foot every morning to attend school in Calexico.

“The border wasn’t the way we think borders are or need to be,” his wife remarked in a phone interview. “All he said was, ‘American citizen,’ and they just smiled and waved him on.”

“I heard him say that he had mariachis on one side and rock-and-roll on the other,” she added, describing the bicultural world of Mr. Delgado’s youth. “He embraced it all.”

Mr. Delgado was interested in theater from an early age and was steadily encouraged in his artistic pursuits by his mother. When he was in high school, he moved to Glendale, Calif., where he participated in musical groups and the theater club.

Mr. Delgado served for six years in the California National Guard before enrolling at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita to study theater. He appeared on the TV drama “Canción de la Raza,” about a Mexican American family, before joining the cast of “Sesame Street.”

His marriages to Barbara Snavely and the actress Linda Moon Redfearn ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 32 years, the former Carole Webb Gillespie of Manhattan; a son from his first marriage, Aram Delgado of Penzance, England; a daughter from his third marriage, Lauren Delgado of Tucson; two brothers; two sisters; and a grandson.

A complete obituary is forthcoming.

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