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A stand-up wife helps Lopez stay on a roll

June 03, 2005|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

The first thing comedian George Lopez says about the new kidney his wife, Ann, gave him in April is what you'd expect from a funnyman: a joke.

"This is a Chicano's worst nightmare," he quips in the voice of his cynical stand-up character, the hard-boiled barrio bad guy. "Something that makes you owe your wife -- forever!"

But when Ann joins him a few minutes later in the living room of their sunny Toluca Lake home, after she's finished doing her makeup for a joint photo shoot that's been increasingly common since the lifesaving transplant operation, he is quick to note that her selfless gift allows him to turn the stereotype of Latino machismo on its head.

"After almost dying, man, what are we going to fight over? [Me] not taking out the trash? No, hombre. Especially now after giving me life, it's whatever she wants."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 04, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
George Lopez -- An article in Friday's Calendar section about actor and comedian George Lopez said that "Chico and the Man" was a Norman Lear production; James Komack was the creator, as well as a writer and director of the show. Also, the article said that in the fall, "The George Lopez Show" would move to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. ABC has scheduled it for 8 p.m. Wednesday in the 2005-06 season.

By offering part of her body, Ann Lopez not only saved her husband and the father of their lovely 9-year-old daughter, Mayan. She also helped spare one of the few successful Chicano entertainers on the national scene.

His wife's gift could not have come at a more propitious moment. Lopez, 44, has a lot to live for. His ABC series, "The George Lopez Show," already the longest-running sitcom with a Latino lead character since "I Love Lucy," is being renewed for a fifth season. Next week, he debuts in his first major movie role, playing three characters in Robert Rodriguez's sci-fi children's fantasy, "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl." And he recently set a box-office record with his stand-up act, selling out seven consecutive nights at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, on a hill above his new Spanish-style residence.

The comedian's hyperactive profile gave the public no clue he was suffering from a genetic kidney disease. For years, even he didn't know what was wrong. He had suffered from bed-wetting as a child, from hypertension as a high school baseball player in nearby Mission Hills, and from chronic exhaustion as an adult. But for all those years, his symptoms were overlooked.

Though Lopez's kidneys were failing fast this year, he and his wife put off the transplant until shooting on the TV show was completed for the season. They checked into a hospital April 19 under pseudonyms.

Even the show's co-executive producer and co-creator, Bruce Helford ("Roseanne," "The Drew Carey Show"), was in the dark until almost the last minute. "I'm sure he was in a lot of pain, but he didn't show it," says Helford.

"I struggled my whole life to succeed," Lopez explains. "I wasn't going to let that disease bring me down."

This is not the first time Ann has come to her husband's rescue. He says she already saved him from his inner demons, showing him for the first time the importance of celebrating Christmas and birthdays.

"I've never been a fortunate person," he says, his voice and demeanor softening. "When I was growing up, I was always the example to my friends' parents: 'Keep doing what you're doing and you're going to end up like George.' I was always used as a negative example. Everything changed when I met Ann."

Lopez was a struggling stand-up comedian when he met Ann Serrano in 1989. She was working as a consultant for Disney, looking for a Latino to play a lead role in a new comedy with a social reversal theme, a la "Trading Places." She went to see Lopez perform at the Ice House in Pasadena, and they hit it off.

They talked about the lack of Latinos in the entertainment business and shared their passion to make a change. Soon, they also shared disappointment and outrage when, they say, the movie role, written expressly for a Latino, was given instead to Jim Belushi in an ethnically cleansed script that became the 1990 film "Taking Care of Business."

It would be a decade before Lopez was discovered by actress-producer Sandra Bullock and got his own series. Thirty years after the late Freddie Prinze starred in Norman Lear's "Chico and the Man," the Lopez show has led what producer Helford calls "a quiet revolution" in TV.

Lopez, however, feels the program hasn't received the credit it deserves as a broadcast milestone. His wife agrees.

"This is the first sitcom with a Latino family," she says. "Chico was Latino, the Man was not. Ricky Ricardo was Latino, his wife was not. This is an entire family of Latinos, and this is the first time in history that's been done.... This is groundbreaking, and yet everyone has just kind of ignored it."

"You know why?" adds Lopez. "They don't want to acknowledge we're important."

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