Who Is Erik Estrada?
Actor Erik Estrada had his first big break in 1970's The Cross and the Switchblade. In 1977, he made his first appearance as Ponch on the popular police drama CHiPs, a role that propelled him to fame. Estrada went on to star in the 1990s telenova Dos Mujeres, Un Camino, before becoming a popular figure on reality TV shows like The Surreal Life.
Erik Estrada was born on March 16, 1949, in New York, New York, and grew up in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of the city. After his parents split up when he was two, Estrada lived with his mother, siblings and grandfather, rarely seeing his father.
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.
'The Cross and the Switchblade' and Early Roles
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 (1974), Trackdown (1976), and Midway (1976). Around this time, Estrada also made guest appearances on such television shows as Medical Center, Hawaii Five-O and Baretta.
In September 1977, Estrada first appeared as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the 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, 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 drama The Line (1980) and starred and produced the television movie Honeyboy (1982), which brought positive reviews.
'Dos Mujeres, Un Camino' and Autobiography
After CHiPs was canceled in 1983, Estrada continued to act on television and in films. He enjoyed a career renaissance in 1993 when he took a leading role in the telenovela Dos Mujeres, Un Camino. Estrada, who already knew some Spanish, had to take language classes for the project. Hugely popular in Mexico and other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, the series helped win him a new legion of fans.
Estrada wrote about his Hispanic heritage among other topics in his 1997 autobiography, My Road from Harlem to Hollywood. The next year, he reunited with former co-star Wilcox for the television film CHiPs ’99, which helped generate new interest in the original series.
Reality TV: 'The Surreal Life,' 'Armed & Famous'
Estrada has also become a popular figure on reality television. He joined adult-film star Ron Jeremy, rapper Vanilla Ice, former televangelist Tammy Faye Messner and others in the second season of The Surreal Life. In 2007, Estrada appeared in Armed & Famous, which had celebrities work alongside real police officers. He also had a small role in the Jamie Kennedy comedy Kickin’ It Old Skool that same year.
In addition to his on-camera performances, Estrada has provided voice work for cartoons such as Maya & Miguel, JoJo’s Circus and Sealab 2021.
Police and Public Service Work
In 2016, Estrada announced via Twitter that he'd been sworn in as a real-life police officer. In his new role as a reserve officer with the St. Anthony Police Department in Idaho, he said he planned to devote attention to protecting kids from internet predators. Not his first foray into law enforcement, Estrada previously had been made a deputy sheriff in Bedford County, Virginia, and a reserve officer in Muncie, Indiana, where he'd been cast in Armed & Famous.
The actor has also teamed with the the California Highway Patrol — the real "CHiPs" — to promote car seat safety and has served as the the face of D.A.R.E. (Drug Awareness Resistance Education).
Marriages and Children
Married three times, Estrada has two sons, Anthony Erik and Brandon Michael-Paul, from his second marriage, to Peggy Rowe. He and his third wife, Nanette Mirkovich, have been married since 1997 and have one child together, a daughter named Francesca.
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