Emilio Delgado, Luis On ‘Sesame Street,’ Dies At 81
The actor held the record for the longest-running role for a Mexican-American in a TV series.
Emilio Delgado, known by generations as Luis the owner of Sesame Street’s Fix-It Shop, died in his New York home on Thursday, March 10, surrounded by family. He was 81.
Delgado leaves behind his wife, Carol, and two children — son, Aram, and daughter, Lauren. His cause of death was multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, Carol told the Associated Press.
While today’s kids see a number of Latinx faces on TV, from Dora the Explorer to Encanto’s Mirabel, a non-stereotypical Chicano character like Luis was a rarity when Delgado made his debut on the beloved children’s show in 1971. Over the next several decades, he consoled distressed muppets, repaired all manners of objects at the fix-it shop, and taught children across the country how to count in Spanish and English.
Luis also met Maria (Sonia Manzano) on Sesame Street, and their beautiful love story culminated in a memorable, on-air rooftop wedding in 1988. It was followed by the arrival of their child, Gabi, in 1989.
In Luis, Latinx children saw themselves, their families and their neighborhoods represented on screen, and non-Latinx kids learned that speaking Spanish was normal, common and useful.
News of his death sparked a swell of gratitude and nostalgia on social media. “Gracias, Señor Delgado for decades of representation to us latino kids who needed role models,” tweeted Dan Garza, puppeteer for Kidding, the Jim Carrey TV series, and the Fraggle Rock reboot.
Delgado was born in Calexico, California, in 1940, and raised among relatives in Mexicali, Mexico. He crossed the border every day to go to school, Carol told The New York Times. His television debut occurred in 1968 with an appearance in Canción de la raza, the first Mexican-American soap opera — or the first English-language telenovela, depending on your perspective.
Playing Luis from 1971 to 2016, with a brief hiatus in 1988, Delgado holds the record for the longest-running role for a Mexican-American in a U.S. TV series. He also made appearances on shows such as Hawaii Five-O, Falcon Crest and House of Cards, and performed live music with the band Pink Martini.
Delgado did not shy away from taking a stand on social issues, aligning himself with Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers and anti-Vietnam war protesters. More recently, he served on the board of directors for the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.
In announcing his 2021 appointment to the board, Robt Seda-Schreiber, the organization’s Chief Activist, said, “His representation as Luis allowed so many kids to see themselves reflected back from their TVs for the first time and taught so many of us so much about Latin culture and language. His belief in our mission and support of our greater community is just a continuation of the care & love he’s shown through his career.”
After Delgado’s death was announced on Thursday, the organization said in a tweet, “He will be missed but his spirit, energy, & kindness remains with us ‘¡Pa'lante!’”