Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ricardo Montalban 1920 - 2009

The death took place in Los Angeles during the week of one of the greatest Latino actors of all time, Ricardo Montalban. He was 88 and died of natural causes. Montalban's greatest fame came from his hundreds of Television appearances and starring roles such as the enigmatic Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island. Soap watchers will most remember him as Zach Powers on The Colbys, the Dynasty spin-off. He will also be remembered for his 1970's advertisements for Chrysler in which he coined the phrase "Corinthian Leather."

Montalban's early work made use of his Latin charisma as the romantic lead in many films and musicals but one his first roles in the US was in the brutal war movie Battleground. He also starred in the cultural taboo drama Sayonara, two of the Plant Of The Apes sequels and the first Naked Gun movie among many others. His greatest movie role however is undoubtedly as Captain Kirk's ultimate true nemesis - the superhuman Kahn Noonian Singh in the 1982 Star Trek movie The Wrath Of Kahn in which he reprised a role from the original Star Trek series in 1967.

Montalban made few live action appearances after the turn of the century instead lending his unmistakable voice to the animated movie The Ant Bully as well as episodes of Dora The Explorer, Kim Possible and Family Guy. This was due not to his age but to his disability.

Little known was that Montalban suffered from a rare spinal disorder since birth that only began manifesting itself after he fall from a horse during a movie shoot in the 1940's. This left him in great pain all this life but he never showed it. Director Robert Rodriguez expressed concern that he had begged his idol - to appear in his Spy Kids sequels when he saw how much pain he was in on set. But when he yelled "Action", Montalban would show no signs of pain. He said later "I cannot think two things at once." Montalban was recognised with the first Easter Seals lifetime achievement award.

It's true to say he was one of the first Hispanic leading men to break into Hollywood, and throughout his career he was an advocate for creating opportunities in America for Latinos in the entertainment industry. In 1970, he even founded a non-profit organisation, The Nosotros Foundation, dedicated to improving the Latino image. Stars such as Antonio Banderas and Edward James Olmos credit him with paving the way for their own careers.

Rest In Peace.

The three links take you to Youtube to view three 7-minute parts of the show awarding Montalban with the first Easter Seals Lifetime Achievement Award: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3.

Montalban's famous Chrysler commercial from 1975

Parody of the Chrysler commercial using The Wrath Of Kahn


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I hated Fantasy Island - Tattoo scared me. But I watched because really, there wasn't much else on.

Bruce Russell said...

I LOVED Fantasy Island. Did they ever establish Mr. Rourke's origin? Rogue leprechaun? Escaped djinn? What?

Is it possible that the TV show Lost takes place on Fantasy Island? If so, I hope Montalban had already recorded his parts for the last couple of seasons . . .

Anonymous said...

Did Mr. Rourke not remind you too much of a bit of a Robin Goodfellow? A Mr. Underhill? Hmm?

Anonymous said...

Ricardo Montalban must have been a contender for Lady's Man of the year at least a few times during his lifetime