Gregory Sierra of ‘Sanford and Son,’ ‘Barney Miller’ Dies @ 83

Gregory Sierra, known to all classic TV fans for his groundbreaking roles on Sanford and Son and Barney Miller, died January 4 in Laguna Woods, California.

Sierra, 83, had battled cancer. His death was reported by ExtraTV.

Born on January 25, 1937, in New York City, he had a hardscrabble existence after being abandoned by his parents at age 6.

Raised by his aunt, he said he had considered joining a gang, but was asked to improvise while hanging out with a friend who was auditioning for a play. That experience pointed him away from gangs — and the priesthood! — and toward acting.

Sierra worked with the National Shakespeare Company and in the New York Shakespeare Festival, as well as in other theater.

After moving to L.A., he made his 1969 TV debut on It Takes a Thief.

Sierra made a slew of TV guest spots on shows of the era, including Medical Center (1969), Mod Squad (1970), and four appearances on The Flying Nun (1969-1970).

In 1970, he made his film debut in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and thereafter usually reserved film appearances for high-profile projects.

In 1972, he landed a recurring role as Julio on Sanford and Son, which allowed Sierra to draw on his Puerto Rican heritage for a change — he had played every possible ethnicity to that point. Julio was laid-back and sarcastic, a recurring foil for Redd Foxx's bombastic Fred Sanford.

While appearing on Sanford and Son, Sierra continued with other TV and movie roles, including starring as a Jewish activist on one of the most shocking episodes of All in the Family (1973), which included Sierra's character dying in a car-bomb explosion. It has been said it was the only episode that ended with no applause, just sustained silence.

He landed on such series as Ironside (1973), Kung Fu (1973), The Streets of San Francisco (1973), Hawaii Five-O (1973), and Columbo (1974), and in the iconic films Papillon (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

Sierra later in life (Image via family photo)

Sierra was one of the original cops on the issue-driven sitcom Barney Miller from 1975-1976. Det. Sgt. Chano Amenguale was a rare Latino professional on TV, one with heart — he breaks into tears on an episode after justifiably killing two men in the line of duty.

Sierra was written off the series and given a leading role on A.E.S. Hudson Street (1978), but that series flopped after just six episodes, and he was not written back onto Barney Miller.

One of Sierra's most intriguing parts was as a macho screenwriter in The Other Side of the Wind, a star-studded film project begun by screen legend Orson Welles in 1970 and that, due to a steady stream of money issues, was abandoned until it was picked up and edited for release in 2018 by the director (and star) Peter Bogdanovich.

Other noteworthy appearances include as zany South American revolutionary Carlos "El Puerco" Valdez on Soap (1980-1981), as Lt. Lou Rodriguez on Miami Vice (1974), as Lt. Gabriel Caceras on three episodes of Murder, She Wrote (1993-1995), as Corbin Entek on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1994), and in supporting roles in such films as Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), and Mafia! (1998).

His final screen work was in the TV movie Blood Money in 2000, and also in a short called Vic in 2006.

Sierra is survived by his wife, Helene.

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