NEW YORK — Gregory Sierra, who had memorable roles in the 1970s sitcoms “Barney Miller” and “Sanford and Son,” has died after battling cancer. He was 83.
Sierra’s widow, Helene, said Saturday in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the actor died on Jan. 4 in Laguna Woods, California.
Sierra’s breakthrough came in 1972 when he played the role of Fred G. Sanford’s neighbor, Julio Fuentes, on “Sanford and Son.” He also earned major attention for playing Sgt. Miguel “Chano” Amanguale on “Barney Miller,” which launched in 1975.
“He was an amazing human being, different than any other person, male or female, that I have ever known,” Helene told the AP. “He just was extremely intelligent and a brilliant actor. He had a heart (of gold). Anytime that somebody needed something, he would be there for them and he defended the underdog anytime. And he was a very charming man. He was truly a man’s man and women fell in love with him all the time.”
Sierra, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born on Jan. 25, 1937 in New York City. His TV credits include “All in the Family,” “Soap,” “Miami Vice,” “Zorro and Son,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Hill Street Blues” and more. He also appeared in films such as “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” “Papillon,” “The Towering Inferno,” “Honey I Blew Up the Kid” and “The Other Side of the Wind,” which was released in 2018 after more than 40 years in development.
“I think Barney Miller is much more real than any other cop show,” Sierra said in an interview for the 1976 book “TV Talk 2: Exploring TV Territory,” hollywoordreporter.com noted Saturday. “The people in the show have real problems. Kojak never worries. He knows he’s got it made. Everything is always under control on that show. You never see the frustrations of police work or the kind of joking that goes on among real policemen. Those are the kinds of things we show on ‘Barney Miller.’”
In addition to Helene, Sierra is survived by his daughters, Kelly and Jill, and his granddaughter, Emma.