Associated Press

Ricardo Montalbán, Distinguished International Actor, Dies at 88

January 14, 2009 05:08 PM
by Josh Katz
Ricardo Montalbán, who was best known for his starring role in TV’s “Fantasy Island” but played many notable roles in Mexico and the United States, has died.

Ricardo Montalbán Dies

Ricardo Montalbán died Wednesday at the age of 88 at around 6:30 a.m., reports.

Gilbert Smith, Montalbán’s son-in-law, said that passed peacefully away from “natural causes” with his nurses and his daughters nearby.

“The Ricardo Montalbán Theatre in my Council District—where the next generations of performers participate in plays, musicals, and concerts—stands as a fitting tribute to this consummate performer,” Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti said in a written statement, according to the Associated Press.

Montalbán’s Career

Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino was born in Mexico City, Mexico, on November 25, 1920. Montalbán was the youngest of four children. He moved with his father to Torreon, where Montalbán considered a career in bullfighting, but ultimately decided to pursue acting as a career path. When he was still a teenager, Montalbán moved to the United States at the invitation of his older brother, actor Carlos Montalbán. Montalbán studied hard to improve his English, and then began taking drama classes at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

By the late 1930s, Montalbán had gotten several bit parts in Broadway productions. In the early 1940s, he returned to Mexico where he starred in many feature films. He went back to Hollywood in 1947 to star in the romantic musical “Fiesta.” In 1948, Montalbán appeared as the lead in “On an Island With You.” The next year, Montalbán stepped out of his customary “Latin lover” persona for “Border Incident,” in which he played a murderous border agent, and “Battleground,” a WWII action movie. Montalbán’s dark complexion meant that he was cast in a variety of ethnic roles, including Native American, Mexican and most famously, as a Japanese in the 1957 film “Sayonara.”

Later Life

During the filming of 1951’s “Across the Wide Missouri,” a pony threw Montalbán, damaging a nerve in his back. The injury continued to trouble him throughout the years, and in 1993, Montalbán became confined to a wheelchair. Despite his disability, Montalbán continues to make film and television appearances; he played the grandfather in the films “Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams” (2002) and “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over “(2003). He has also provided voices for several animated TV shows and films, including “The Ant Bully,” “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy.”

In 1970, Montalbán founded Nosotros, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving roles for Latino actors. The Ricardo Montalbán Foundation purchased and continues to sponsor the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre of Los Angeles, which provides training and support for young artists; it also hosts the Nosotros American Latino Film Festival.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines