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As Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the police drama CHiPs, Erik Estrada became one of the most popular television stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
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Actor, author. Born on March 16, 1949, in New York, New York. As Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the police drama CHiPs, Erik Estrada became one of the most popular television stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He grew up in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of New York City. After his parents split up when he was two, Estrada rarely saw his father. He lived with his mother, his siblings, and his grandfather.
Estrada first started acting in high school as a member of the drama club. After graduation, he studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Estrada had his first big break in 1970’s The Cross and the Switchblade, playing Nicky, a gang leader, opposite Pat Boone who starred as a preacher seeking to convert two rival gangs to Christianity. Earning strong reviews for his performance, Estrada went on to play his first cop role as a rookie officer in The New Centurions (1972). Other roles followed in such films as Airport 1975, Trackdown (1976), and Midway (1976). Around this time, he also made many television guest appearances on such shows as Medical Center, Hawaii Five-O, and Baretta.
In September 1977, Estrada first appeared as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the new police show, CHiPs, which followed members of the California Highway Patrol. His partner on the show, Jon Baker, was played by Larry Wilcox, and the two had a rocky relationship during the series’ run. Initially Wilcox was intended to be the show’s star, but Estrada soon became the program’s most popular performer. This led to some tension behind the scenes.
At the time, Estrada was one of the few Latinos in a leading role on television. He was also considered to be one of the leading heartthrobs of the era as well, scoring a place on People magazine’s “10 Sexiest Bachelors in the World” list in 1979. Two years later, Estrada was involved in a contract dispute that led to him being replaced by athlete-turned-actor Bruce Jenner for a few episodes before a deal was reached.
Outside of the show, Estrada found time for other projects. He had a supporting role in the Vietnam era dramatic film The Line (1980) and starred and produced the television movie Honeyboy (1982), which brought him positive reviews.
After the show was cancelled in 1983, Estrada continued to act on television and in films, but these were largely forgettable projects.
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After the Civil War, many of the country's best and brightest black advocates, artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals moved to the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Thanks largely to the efforts of these residents, Harlem became both the cradle of a cultural revolution and the heart of the civil rights movement. Meet some of the many people who gave—and continue to give—this neighborhood a voice, simply by calling it home.
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