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Emilio Delgado, Sesame Street's Luis and Social Justice Hero, Has Died

photo courtesy Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice

Emilio Delgado, the actor who played Luis on Sesame Street for 44 years and was a strong LGBTQ+ ally, has died at age 81.

Delgado died Thursday at his Manhattan home, The New York Times reports. The cause was multiple myeloma, his wife, Carole Delgado, told the paper.

He was a beloved regular on the PBS children’s program, having joined the cast in 1971; Luis became the longest-running role for a Mexican-American on any TV show. His character owned the Fix-It Shop, where he repaired a wide variety of objects. The show portrayed a romance between Luis and his colleague at the shop, Maria (Sonia Manzano), and they married on-screen in 1988, in an episode that was a huge hit with viewers.

Delgado was devoted to offering positive, nonstereotypical portrayals of Latinos, and he worked for social and racial justice in other ways. He recently joined the board of directors for the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, a New Jersey-based organization that works for LGBTQ+ equality and other progressive causes. “I am so very inspired by the mission and community-building of the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice,” said Delgado, “and how the diversity and cooperation that Sesame Street built is now being carried forth into the future by the good works of the BRCSJ.”

He was both a trailblazer on Sesame Street and “an activist on the actual street,” according to his biography on the center’s website. He had been a supporter of the United Farm Workers and a protester against the Vietnam War.

He was born in Calexico, Calif., and had family across the border in Mexicali, Mexico. He studied theater at the California Institute of the Arts. He had a busy career as both an actor and singer. He appeared in TV shows including Canción de la Raza, Law & Order, Hawaii Five-O, Falcon Crest, House of Cards, and Lou Grant. He sang at venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, performing with Pink Martini.

He was artistic director of the Barrio Theater Ensemble of East Los Angeles and appeared in various stage productions, most recently in Quixote Nuevo, an adaptation of Don Quixote, at the California Shakespeare Theater, Hartford Stage in Connecticut, and the Alley Theater in Houston.

Sesame Street, he once told the Houston Chronicle, was the first TV program that “showed Latinos as real human beings.” He continued, “We weren’t dope addicts. We weren’t maids or prostitutes, which were the way we were being shown in television, in film. Here, on Sesame Street, there were different people who spoke different languages and ate interesting foods, and they were all Americans.”

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