Actor Rene Enriquez, who once rejected advice to change his surname if he wanted a career in show business and went on to make Lt. Ray Calletano on "Hill Street Blues" a role model for Latinos everywhere, has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 58.
Enriquez died Friday at his suburban Tarzana home, the Henry Bollinger Public Relations firm announced Tuesday. His body was cremated the following day, said his sister, Violetta Enriquez. The actor, who was not married and had no children, did not want a funeral, she said.
His motion picture credits included a co-starring role with Gary Busey in "Bulletproof" and a plum role as Gen. Anastasio Somoza in "Under Fire," co-starring Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman. He also appeared with Charles Bronson in "The Evil That Men Do."
Enriquez was a familiar face on such television shows as "The Defenders," "The Nurses," "Naked City," "Charlie's Angels," "Benson," "Quincy" and "WKRP in Cincinnati."
He was also seen in a television movie as Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Salvadoran prelate and opponent of right-wing death squads and military leadership, who was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980. But it was as Lt. Calletano, the taciturn, second-in-command police officer on the Emmy-winning and much beloved "Hill Street" series that Enriquez became known.
"I'm proud of the show. It made a powerful statement on the decay of cities and human isolation," he once said.
Calletano was as proud and sensitive about his heritage and unhappy about the status of Latinos in American society as was the actor who portrayed him.
Enriquez was born in the United States but moved to the family's homeland, Nicaragua, as a child. His uncle, Emiliano Chamorro, was once president of that country.
At age 16, he returned to the United States, attended City College of San Francisco and graduated from Cal State San Francisco after Air Force service during the Korean War.
He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and spent more than 20 years building a stage and film career before emerging as Lt. Calletano.
His role on the show, he told The Times in a 1981 interview, had been written for an Anglo actor "but the producers decided to have Hispanics read for it."
An activist for Nosotros and other Latino support agencies, he enjoyed the fact that his character was defined only as "Hispanic."
"That way Mexicans can identify with me and Puerto Ricans and Cubans. He (Calletano) is a man from a low economic status who speaks with little polish but who worked his way up."