Actor and Chrysler Spokesman Ricardo Montalban Dies at 88

Was Perhaps Best Known as Mr. Roarke on 'Fantasy Island'

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NEW YORK ( -- Ricardo Montalban, a veteran film and TV actor and iconic Chrysler spokesman, died yesterday morning at his Los Angeles home from "complications of advancing age," according to his family. He was 88.

Ricardo Montalban
Ricardo Montalban Credit: Newscom
Mr. Montalban, who is perhaps best remembered for his turn as Mr. Roarke, the enigmatic and bespoke proprietor of the eponymous resort on TV's "Fantasy Island," was one of the first Mexican-born actors to achieve celebrity stateside, and is considered a pioneer among the Latino entertainment community.

For years he filled the Latin-lover role for MGM, to many embodying the stereotype itself (he even starred in a 1953 film called "Latin Lovers"). The pastiche was fully realized in Chrysler's 1975 TV spot for the Cordoba, a luxury car whose upholstery Mr. Montalban extolled as "soft, Corinthian leather," a completely fabricated feature of the vehicle unavailable in any automobile, domestic or otherwise.

From Mexico to Los Angeles
Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino was born in Mexico City on Nov. 25, 1920, and left for Los Angeles as a teenager. In 1940, he was cast in a small role in the New York production of "Her Cardboard Lover," a play starring Tallulah Bankhead. Mr. Montalban returned to Mexico and become a star, leading in a dozen Spanish-language films before his Hollywood debut in 1947's "Fiesta," a musical in which he played an aspiring toreador.

Mr. Montalban did his part to try to undo his typecasting. In 1971 he helped found Nosotros, an advocacy group for Latinos employed in the entertainment industry. As president, Mr. Montalban spoke with directors, producers and writers about rehabilitating the image of the Hispanic character and urging Hispanic actors to take their craft more seriously. Years later, Mr. Montalban was quoted as saying, "I received tremendous support, but there were also some negative repercussions. I was accused of being a militant, and as a result I lost jobs."

Science-fiction cred
Mr. Montalban secured his science-fiction credibility when he played the titular character in 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," reprising a guest spot from 15 years earlier. The film is widely regarded as the premiere installment of the film franchise, chiefly because of Mr. Montalban's role.

Toward the end of his career, Mr. Montalban found work in children's entertainment, appearing in the "Spy Kids" series of films and providing the voices of characters on the TV series "Dora the Explorer" and in the 2006 film "The Ant Bully."

Friend and publicist David Brokaw told the Associated Press that Mr. Montalban was "exactly how you'd imagine him to be. What you saw on the screen and on television and on talk shows, this very courtly, modest, dignified individual, that's exactly who he was."

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