Ricardo Montalban dies at 88

'Fantasy Island' star was an Emmy winner

Ricardo Montalban, who became a household name for his performance as the wish-granting Mr. Roarke on "Fantasy Island," died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. The actor was 88.

Montalban's death was announced at a meeting of the city council by president Eric Garcetti, who represents the district where the actor lived. Garcetti did not give a cause of death.

Although he was best known as the charming Roarke on ABC's 1978-84 hit series, Montalban was also a gifted character actor who won an Emmy for his portrayal of a Sioux chief in the miniseries "How the West Was Won."

Montalban's suave manner and patriarchal dignity became his trademarks, and for a period in his late career, he served as the TV pitchman for Chrysler. His dignified intonation -- "rich Corinthian leather" with his regal rolling of the "R's" -- caught viewers' favor and was widely repeated.

Montalban could also play the most dastardly villains, most memorably his portrayal as the diabolical Khan in the second "Star Trek" movie, "The Wrath of Khan." Because he had played the role during the TV series with such menace, the film producers brought back the character for the film.

Earlier, he had done turns in "Escape From the Planet of the Apes" and "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" (1971). A good sport, Montalban joined such other acting straight arrows as Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen to spoof their images in "The Naked Gun" (1988).

His tall-dark-and-handsome looks won him a number of "Latin lover" roles during his days under contract at MGM in the 1940s. Along with Fernando Lamas, he played a number of romantic Latin leads during the 1940s and '50s for MGM.

Montalban won distinction in his first leading role opposite Cyd Charisse in "Fiesta" (1947), a romantic bullfighter extravaganza that starred Esther Williams. He gave a gritty performance as a U.S. soldier in "Battleground" (1949), the foxhole saga of the Battle of the Bulge, which won a screenplay Oscar as well as best picture and best director nominations.

Because of his dark looks appearance, Montalban was cast in an array of ethnic roles during the '50s, including American Indian and even Japanese. He delivered one of his most memorable performances as a Kabuki actor in "Sayonara" (1957), which starred Marlon Brando and Red Buttons. He went on to co-star during this period in a wide range of films, from "Cheyenne Autumn" (1964) to "The Singing Nun" (1966).

During the 1960s, he was active in TV, making guest appearances on a wide range of shows, including: "The Virginian," "Ben Casey," "Burke's Law," "The Defenders," "Dr. Kildare" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

In later years, he sometime appeared as himself, including an appearance on "Dynasty" in 1981.

Born Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino on Nov. 25, 1920, he spent much of his youth living not far from the Los Angeles Coliseum. He returned to Mexico as a young adult to begin his movie career, where he played in a wide array of romantic fodder. During this period, he also performed on the stage, landing small parts on Broadway.

After his U.S. movie debut in "Fiesta," he was cast in such lightweight fare as "The Kissing Bandit" (1948), where he did a lively turn as a dancer, "Neptune's Daughter" (1949), "Two Weeks With Love" (1950), "Sombrero" (1953) and "Latin Lovers" (1953), among other films.

Most recently, he played the grandfather in "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams" (2002) as well as Senor Senior Senior on the Disney Channel series "Kim Possible."

Since the mid 1990s, Montalban had been plagued by back problems after a difficult operation on his spine to repair an injury he received when filming "Across the Wide Missouri" (1951). Plagued with pain, he was often confined to a wheelchair.

Montalban married Georgiana Young, who was Loretta Young's sister, in 1944. The couple had four children.