Ricardo Montalban, the suave leading man who was one of the first Mexican-born actors to make it big in Hollywood and who was best known for his roles as Mr. Roarke on ABC's "Fantasy Island" and the villainous Khan of the "Star Trek" franchise, died Wednesday. He was 88.
Born Nov. 25, 1920, Mr. Montalban was the youngest of four children of Castilian Spaniards who had immigrated in 1906 to Mexico City, where Mr. Montalban's father owned a dry goods store. When he was 5, the family moved to the arid northern city of Torreon.
In 1944, he married Georgiana Belzer, a model and Loretta Young's sister.
Ricardo was the first to start to help others from outside the U.S. into the film and broadway scene.
Beginning in the 1940s, Mr. Montalban starred in dozens of films with some of the greatest names in movies, including Clark Gable and Lana Turner. When major film roles dried up for him in the 1970s, he turned to stage and eventually TV, where he became familiar to millions as the mysterious host whose signature line, "Welcome to Fantasy Island," opened the hit show that ran from 1978 to 1984.
Within the entertainment industry, Mr. Montalban was widely respected for his efforts to create opportunities for Latinos. On Wednesday, actor Edward James Olmos, star of "Battlestar Galactica," called Mr. Montalban "one of the true giants of arts and culture."
"He was a stellar artist and a consummate person and performer with a tremendous understanding of culture ... and the ability to express it in his work," Olmos said.
From the 1950s and decades on, Mr. Montalban appeared in several films. In the late 1970s, he won an Emmy for his performance as Chief Satangkai in the television miniseries "How the West Was Won."
In the 1970s and '80s, he became a commercial spokesman for Chrysler. He was particularly known - and later widely spoofed - for his silky allusion to the "soft Corinthian leather" of the Chrysler Cordoba, although no such leather actually existed.
While making "Fantasy Island," Mr. Montalban also gave one of his best movie performances - as Khan Noonien Singh in the 1982 film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," a follow-up to a beloved 1967 "Star Trek" television episode that also featured Mr. Montalban.
As Khan, Mr. Montalban was deliciously over the top, vowing to wreak revenge on Starfleet Adm. James T. Kirk: "I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nivea, and 'round the Antares maelstrom, and 'round perdition's flames before I give him up."
MGM tapped him to play a bullfighter in the Esther Williams' film "Fiesta," much of which was shot in Mexico. He is remembered best in that 1947 film for a dance scene with the young Cyd Charisse. That film led to a contract at MGM, where he remained for eight years.
Other films in which he appeared include "Latin Lovers," "On an Island With You," "Border Incident" and "Battleground."
Director John Sturges gave him the leading role of Lt. Peter Morales in "Mystery Street" in 1950 and, that same year, a starring role with June Allyson and Dick Powell in "Right Cross." Also in 1950, Mr. Montalban was Jane Powell's Cuban love interest in "Two Weeks With Love." The following year, Mr. Montalban co-starred with Gable in William Wellman's "Across the Wide Missouri."
After MGM dropped him in 1953, Mr. Montalban went on the road with Agnes Moorehead and others in "Don Juan in Hell," which was later revived on Broadway with him in the lead.
In 1955, he appeared on Broadway in the short-lived "Seventh Heaven" and in the late 1950s starred with Lena Horne in "Jamaica," which ran for 555 performances and earned him a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical.
He played a Kabuki theater actor in "Sayonara" (1957) and co-starred with Debbie Reynolds in the 1966 film "The Singing Nun."
In more recent years, he appeared as the evil tycoon in the 1988 box-office comedy smash "Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad" and had a prominent role as the grandfather in 2003's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over."
From 1965 to 1970, Mr. Montalban was vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, which gave him a life achievement award in 1993.
He is survived by two daughters, Laura Montalban and Anita Smith; two sons, Mark Montalban and Victor Montalban; and six grandchildren
This is a great actor that will be very greatly missed