Born on July 13, 1946, in Los Angeles, California, Cheech Marin found his calling after meeting Tommy Chong in Canada. Performing as the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, the two released a series of highly successful comedy albums in the 1970s, and became symbols of marijuana culture with the 1978 film Up in Smoke. Marin has since enjoyed more success in television and movies. He's also an avid art collector.
Richard Anthony Marin was born on July 13, 1946, in South Central Los Angeles, California. The son of Oscar, a police officer, and Elsa, a secretary, he was given his famous nickname, "Cheech," as a baby by an uncle, who remarked that the newborn looked like a chicharron—a deep-fried pigskin. Marin grew up in Granada Hills, where he developed a reputation as a class clown and sang in his friends' bands. He attended California State University, Northridge, where he majored in English literature, but left eight credits short of a degree to move to Vancouver, Canada, and avoid the Vietnam draft.
Cheech and Chong
Marin was delivering carpets when he met Tommy Chong, a musician who was running an improv comedy troupe from a strip bar owned by his family. After a brief spell with the troupe, Marin and Chong began performing as a musical act, then as stand-up comedy duo. As "Cheech and Chong," they struck a chord with the late-1960s counter-culture crowd by playing up their ethnic stereotypes (Marin was Mexican-American; Chong was Scottish-Irish-Chinese) and spoofing their stoner lifestyles.
The two brought their act to Los Angeles in 1970, and shortly after catching the attention of record producer Lou Adler, they released their first album, Cheech and Chong (1971). Their 1972 follow-up, Big Bambu, became the highest-selling comedy album in history at the time, and Los Cochinos, released the following year, earned them a Grammy Award.
In 1978, the duo made a successful transition to the big screen with the cult stoner hit Up in Smoke. Directed and produced by Adler on a meager budget, the film took in more than $100 million at the box office and established Cheech and Chong as official symbols of marijuana culture. They wrote and directed multiple sequels to Up in Smoke, but eventually tired of the material, and split up after releasing their ninth album, Get Out of My Room: Cheech and Chong, in 1985.
In 1987, Marin wrote and directed Born in East L.A., a modestly successful comedy about a Mexican-American who mistakenly gets deported. He then provided the voice of Tito, a Chihuahua, in Disney's animated Oliver and Company in 1988, but mainly appeared in limited roles over the next few years.
Marin's second act finally hit his stride in the mid-1990s, starting with his voiceover work as Banzai the hyena in Disney's 1994 megahit, The Lion King. He then enjoyed prominent supporting parts in the Robert Rodriguez films Desparado (1995) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), and landed the plum role of Inspector Joe Dominguez on Nash Bridges, a TV crime drama that aired from 1996 to 2001.
Later, Marin collaborated with Rodriguez for the 2000 family hit Spy Kids (and its sequels), and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). He also continued his voiceover work, with parts in Cars (2006) and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008), and had a recurring role as the father of Hugo "Hurley" Reyes on the popular TV drama Lost.
In 2008, Cheech and Chong reunited for the "Light Up America" tour, for which they reprised their famous stoner personas. They followed that with their "Get it Legal" tour, proving that their subversive brand of humor remained relevant long after the counter-culture movement that spawned it had passed. Of his career with Chong, Marin once stated, "The thing for a comedy team to be successful, what people don't realize, is that it involves a great deal of compromise. And the most successful comedy teams—or any kind of teams—are teams that have two very strong personalities. And when they clash is where the real creativity takes place. Lennon-McCartney, Keith Richards-Mick Jagger ... two very different personalities and strong the same way."
Marin began collecting art around the time he embarked on his solo career, and, today, owns what is considered to be the largest private collection of Chicano art in the world. Seeking to bring exposure to unheralded artists, he formed the "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge" exhibition, which toured several major American cities from 2001 to 2007. He currently serves on the boards of the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and has been honored for his work with the Latino community.
When not devoting energy to creative and humanitarian projects, Marin enjoys spending time on the golf course. He married his third wife, Natasha, in August 2009, and has three children from previous marriages.
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