"Fantasy Island" star Ricardo Montalban dies

Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:53am EST
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By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Ricardo Montalban, best known as the debonair and mysterious Mr. Roarke on the popular television series "Fantasy Island," died on Wednesday at the age of 88.

Mexican-born Montalban had a long career in Hollywood but found broad fame as the star of ABC's "Fantasy Island" in which he fulfilled the dreams of his guests with the help of his sidekick, Tattoo.

The Emmy-winning actor died at about 6:30 a.m. of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, surrounded by members of his family, a spokesman told Reuters.

Born Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban Merino in Mexico City on November 25, 1920, he got his start in show business in Mexican theater, television and film.

He broke into Hollywood in the 1940s, becoming one of the few Latino stars in the industry at the time with his leading role in 1949's "Border Incident."

While many of his early roles were character parts in westerns, in the late 1950s he starred alongside Lena Horne in the Broadway musical "Jamaica."

In the 1970s, Montalban became the spokesman for the Chrysler Cordoba, famously praising the luxury car's "soft Corinthian leather" in his much-imitated rich baritone and elegant diction.

"Fantasy Island" debuted on ABC in 1978 and quickly became one of the most-watched dramas on U.S. television, featuring Montalban as the enigmatic owner of a tropical paradise who made the dreams of his guests come true, often in unexpected or fanciful ways.   Continued...

<p>Actor Ricardo Montalban, star of the film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" poses at the film's DVD release party July 11 in Los Angeles in this undated file photo. REUTERS/File</p>