Erik Estrada's advice to fans: 'Don't be a George Lopez'
From 1977 to 1983, Erik Estrada played the hunkiest cop on TV as the star of NBC's "CHiPs." We liked co-star Larry Wilcox and all, but come on: Estrada had the beefcake posters, the Dynamite magazine covers and the Enquirer stalking his every move.
We're not kidding. Essentially, Frank "Ponch" Poncherello became the Fonzie of the California Highway Patrol.
Beyond that fame, Estrada also served as a role model for Hispanics at a time when they weren't particularly visible on TV. Once the show finished its run, he continued to work, even finding Spanish-language fame as the star of the 1993-1994 telenovela "Dos Mujeres, Un Camino," which ran for more than 200 episodes.
Estrada, 70, lives in California and works as a reserve police officer, but he'll take some time off to meet with fans in Phoenix in June. He called to plug the appearance and talk about his career, the 2017 "CHiPs" film and even George Lopez's nasty beef with him.
Question: You do police work in real life. Is that because of “CHiPs” or were you always interested?
Answer: From the age of 4 to 18, I wanted to be a New York City cop because my mom dated a cop who was a great guy. My dad was stuck on the needle, and she got rid of him. But because of this guy, cops are my heroes. But at 18, I got involved with a girl who was in drama club, and I got big into drama.
Q: You were around as an actor for a few years before “ChiPs” hit. Did that prepare you for fame?
A: No, of course not. It either happens or it doesn’t happen. I was just happy to have a steady job for six years.
Q: Did you realize what you meant to Hispanic kids who watched the show back then?
A: Well, originally Poncherello was Poncharelli, an Italian-American cop. When I got the role, I changed it to a Hispanic-American cop. It was the first time you had a Hispanic-American officer in a positive (regular) role on a prime time show on one of the top three networks. And I did that.
Q: You must have influenced a lot of kids to become officers.
A: A great many of them, either first responders or police officers, were influenced by the show. It was always a good thing. During that time, people were very respectful to law enforcement and authority figures. They used to love it when kids would come up to them, because the show influenced them to be less afraid of uniforms.
Fame and Larry Wilcox
Q: You and Larry Wilcox were the stars, but you became the big, breakout star. Was that hard on your relationship?
A: Well, you got two guys on the show, and you’re both the leads. One of them takes off, just rockets off. There’s no school you can go to learn how to deal with that sort of thing. But it all turned out OK, and we’re good buddies now.
Q: What did you think of the “CHiPs” movie?
A: I thought it had some very funny things and some good stunt work. I thought Miguel (Michael) Peña did a great job and is a very funny guy. I felt that they kind’ve financially shot themselves in the foot. A lot of things were totally inappropriate for young-age children to see, so they lost that whole marketplace. Instead of $18 million they could have made $180 million.
On the George Lopez jokes
Q: What’s your take on all the George Lopez material about you? It’s very mean-spirited.
A: People are going to do what people are going to do. … He’s got karma to pay. You don’t take a kidney from your wife and do that kind of stuff (Lopez's wife filed for divorce in 2010, citing irreconcilable differences). God doesn’t appreciate that.
Q: He says you didn’t shake his hand in the ‘70s, but I’ve heard people say how nice you are to fans.
A: Because I like people. I genuinely like my fellow man. I’ve had the character to protect and to serve all my life. At age 5, I started selling snow cones on the street, so I’ve always been exposed to people, and I treat them the way I want to be treated, with kindness and friendliness.
Q: Do you still hear from “Dos Mujeres, Un Camino” fans?
A: All the time. Every restaurant I go to, I make it a point to go to the kitchen, because it’s usually Hispanics, and I say hello and thanks for a good meal.
Q: You’ve had English-language fame and Spanish-language fame. Is there a difference between fans?
A: If a fan is a fan, they're gonna be a fan for life. If they loved you when they were young, they’re gonna love you when they're old. It’s nice, and they’re always respectful. (Chuckling) Just be respectful. Don’t be a George Lopez.
What: The actor will sign autographs and greet fans.
When: 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8.
Where: Free Agent Sports & Collectibles, 4568 E. Cactus Road (Paradise Valley , Phoenix.
Admission: $49 for one autograph and a photo with Estrada. The store will provide a color 8x10 photo at the signing if you don't have any other item to be autographed.
Details: 623-587-9766, azcardshows.com.