Actor Ricardo Montalban Dies

Ricardo Montalban, the Mexican-born actor perhaps best known for his role in the TV show Fantasy Island, has died. He was 88. He arrived in Hollywood in 1946 after starring in Mexican movies. He was cast in a number of musicals.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Actor Ricardo Montalban died today. He was 88. He played Fantasy Island's Mr. Rourke and the title villain in the Star Trek movie "The Wrath of Khan." NPR's Bob Mondello notes that Montalban's career on stage and screen spanned six decades and many nationalities.

BOB MONDELLO: In the 1950s and'60s, when there weren't many Latino actors working in this country, Ricardo Montalban was Hollywood's go-to guy whenever producers were looking for a Mexican gunslinger or a hot Latin lover or an Indian brave, or for the Oscar winning film "Sayonara," a Japanese kabuki actor. He seemed to be everyone's dashing foreign fantasy figure, which may be why a couple of decades later, he got to preside over "Fantasy Island" as the audience's guide Mr. Rourke.

(Soundbite of TV show "Fantasy Island")

Mr. RICARDO MONTALBAN: (As Mr. Rourke) Sally is one of the contestants. And in the end, she will be crowned the most beautiful of all, queen of Fantasy Island, don't you see?

Mr. HERVE VILLECHAIZE: (As Tattoo) You mean the contest is fixed?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MONTALBAN: (As Mr. Rourke) I like the word predetermined.

MONDELLO: Montalban grew up in Mexico City and retained both his Mexican citizenship and that rich Spanish accent throughout his life. It helped him sell songs on Broadway opposite Lena Horne in the 1957 musical "Jamaica" and also to sell the Chrysler Cordoba in ubiquitous '70s commercials.

(Soundbite of Chrysler advertisement)

Mr. MONTALBAN: I request nothing beyond the thickly cushioned luxury of seats available even in soft Corinthian leather.

MONDELLO: That line became a staple for Montalban impersonators. But he presented those who would mock him with a moving target, turning in comic performances in such films as "Naked Gun," and past the age of 60 becoming the muscular villain in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

He was also a founder of Nosotros, a nonprofit organization established to improve the image of Latinos in Hollywood and to fight the stereotypes that he himself had had to overcome. I'm Bob Mondello.

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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