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Emilio Delgado, Luis on ‘Sesame Street’ for Four Decades, Dies at 81

Emilio Delgado, the actor who for more than four decades played Luis the handyman on the beloved children’s television show “Sesame Street,” died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 81.

The cause was multiple myeloma, which Mr. Delgado had been battling since December 2020, his wife, Carole Delgado, said.

Over a span of 44 years on “Sesame Street,” Mr. Delgado’s character was the owner of The Fix-It Shop, where he repaired any objects that needed fixing, like picture frames or giant toasters. Luis was joined in the shop by Maria, played by Sonia Manzano. After an on-screen courtship, the characters married in a widely viewed episode of the program in 1988.

The marriage of Maria and Luis was cause for celebration among the children who were learning numbers and letters — and about worldly concepts like death and diversity — from “Sesame Street.” Parents dressed their children in their fancy clothes for viewing parties. Mothers cried as the ceremony unfolded.

The union, which followed five months of hugging, serenading and pizza-sharing, was also a way to teach young children about love. The two characters were friends and partners at the shop for 10 years, but their feelings started to change when they cared for a sick kitten.

“Since kids see love in terms of physical things like kissing, hugging, giving flowers, we showed Maria and Luis doing a lot of that,” Ms. Manzano, who also wrote for the show, told The New York Times in 1988.

“We wanted to show a couple who are nice to each other and have fun together,” she said.

Mr. Delgado had a long road to the show that would define his career. After “beating doors in Hollywood” for nine years, he got a call one day to audition for the show because it wanted a more diverse cast, Mr. Delgado said in a 2011 interview for the public television show “Up Close with Patsy Smullin.” He joined the cast in 1971, two years after the program premiered.

“I was so excited, but as an actor I knew it was a job,” he said. “Maybe it would last a year, maybe two years. Maybe not even that long. But it was great. I had a job on television, on a major television show.”

The program allowed Mr. Delgado to show off his singing in addition to acting. In the 2011 interview, Mr. Delgado said that music was his life. He would later perform with the band Pink Martini at venues like the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall.

His love for music developed as a child in Mexico. “I just remember going to sleep to the sound of mariachis,” he said.

Emilio Delgado was born on May 8, 1940, in Calexico, a California border town, to Emilio Delgado and Carmen Rodriguez Delgado. He had family he would live with across the border in Mexicali, Carole Delgado said.

“He really lived biculturally,” she said, noting that he lived with grandparents and extended family in Mexico. “Because he was an American citizen, he would walk to Calexico every day for school. It wasn’t the border politics of today.”

As a teenager, he moved to Glendale, Calif., where he explored his passion for music and theater. Mr. Delgado served six years in the California National Guard in the 1960s before attending California Institute of the Arts, where he was a student in the institution’s first theater class in 1970.

When Mr. Delgado wasn’t performing on “Sesame Street,” two “Sesame Street” feature films and many live appearances, he acted in numerous popular shows, including “Hawaii Five-O,” “Falcon Crest,” “House of Cards,” “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Lou Grant.”

In 2018, Mr. Delgado began starring in “Quixote Nuevo,” Octavio Solis’s reimagining of “Don Quixote,” performing at the California Shakespeare Theater, Boston’s Hartford Stage and Alley Theatre in Houston, his family said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Delgado is survived by a daughter, Lauren Delgado; a son, Aram Delgado; and four siblings: Cesar Delgado, Edward Delgado, Martha Ledesma and Norma Vizcaino.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City declared Oct. 15, 2019, “Emilio Delgado Day” at a celebration to honor Hispanic heritage.

“At a time when, if you saw diversity on television, it often was with stereotypes, and not the good kind of stereotypes,” Mr. de Blasio said, “Emilio was one of the people who broke the mold, created a positive role model, for everyone, but particularly for children who didn’t get to see or hear people who looked like them and spoke like them.”

Christine Chung contributed reporting.

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