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Emilio Delgado, Sesame Street's Luis for 45 years, has died at 81

Emilio Delgado, the actor and singer who played fix-it shop owner Luis Rodriguez on Sesame Street from 1971 to 2016, died Thursday from the blood cancer multiple myeloma, his wife, Carol Delgado, confirmed to The Associated Press. He was 81 and died at home in New York. Delgado joined Sesame Street in its third season, and for the next 45 years he "proudly laid claim to the 'record for the longest-running role for a Mexican-American in a TV series,'" Sesame Workshop said Thursday.

After Sesame Street declined to renew Delgado's contract in a 2016 reshuffle, he stayed active in the theater, starring in the Don Quixote offshoot Quixote Nuevo before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Delgado also had roles on the TV shows Lou Grant, Quincy M.E., Falcon Crest, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. But he is best known for his trailblazing role on Sesame Street

On Sesame Street, "for the first time on television, they showed Latinos as real human beings," Delgado told the Houston Chronicle in 2020. "We weren't dope addicts. We weren't maids or prostitutes, which were the way we were being shown in television and in film. Here, on Sesame Street, there were different people who spoke different languages and ate interesting foods, and they were all Americans."

Delgado's Luis also helped bring child-appropriate representations of love, marriage, and childbirth to children's television, marrying costar Sonia Manzano's Maria Figueroa character in 1988. (Yes, Sesame Street's adult characters had last names, AP notes.) 

Delgado was born in Calexico, California, in 1940, but grew up a few miles away on the other side of the border in Mexicali, Mexico. He attributed his love of performing to living across the street from beer gardens and falling asleep to the sound of mariachi bands.