Ricardo Montalban, Mexican actor, Died at 88

  Dead Famous

Dead, Ricardo Montalbán on January 14, 2009 at the age of 88, he was a Mexican actor.

Born on November 25, 1920 in Mexico City and grew up in Torreón, the son of Spanish immigrants Ricarda Merino and Jenaro Montalbán, a store manager who raised him as a Roman Catholic.

He was born with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in his spine. Montalbán had a sister, Carmen, and two brothers, Pedro and Carlos.

In 1941, Montalbán appeared in three-minute musicals produced for the Soundies film jukeboxes.

He appeared in many of the New York–produced Soundies as an extra or as a member of a singing chorus (usually billed as Men and Maids of Melody), although he had the lead role in He’s a Latin from Staten Island (1941), in which he (billed simply as “Ricardo”) played the title role of a guitar-strumming gigolo, accompanied by an off-screen vocal by Gus Van.

Late in 1941, Montalbán returned to Mexico after learning that his mother was dying. Montalbán also starred in radio, such as on the internationally syndicated program “Lobo del Mar” (Seawolf), in which he was cast as the captain of a vessel which became part of some adventure at each port it visited.

This 30-minute weekly show aired in many Spanish-speaking countries until the early 1970s.

In 1972, Montalbán co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee with actors Carmen Zapata, Henry Darrow and Edith Diaz.

In 1975, he was chosen as the television spokesman for the new Chrysler Cordoba.

The car became a successful model, and over the following several years, was heavily advertised; his mellifluous delivery of a line praising the “soft Corinthian leather” upholstery of the car’s interior, often misquoted as “fine” or “rich Corinthian leather” (he did describe the leather as “rich” for later ads for the Chrysler New Yorker), became famous and was much parodied, and Montalbán subsequently became a favorite subject of impersonators.

Eugene Levy, for example, frequently impersonated him on SCTV. In 1986, he was featured in a magazine advertisement for the new Chrysler New Yorker.

Montalban was also famous for a series of television commercials in which he returned somewhat to his “Latin lover” persona, primarily in a series of slick commercials for Chrysler’s Cordoba automobile, pitching the elegant auto with its “rich, Corinthian leather” (it later came to light that this phrase had been conjured up as a marketing tool, and that there was no such product from Corinth or anywhere else!).

As for film and television work in his later years, he good-naturedly spoofed his Hollywood image in a number of featured parts, including a hilarious send-up of himself in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988).

Two of his final, larger-scaled film roles were as the grandfather in the two “Spy Kids” sequels: Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003).

A class act who was beloved in the industry for his gentle and caring nature, the long-term effects of his spinal injury eventually confined him to a wheelchair in his later years.

He died in his Los Angeles home of complications from old age on January 14, 2009 at age 88.