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Hector Elizondo Biography

Home > Actors > E > Elizondo, Hector > Biography

Birth Name: Hector Elizondo
Born: 12/22/1936
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA

Hector Elizondo was born on Dec. 22, 1936 in New York City to parents Carmen Reyes, a woman of Puerto Rican heritage, and Martin Elizondo, an immigrant from the Basque region of Spain. Although not his initial career choice, the 10-year-old boy began working in radio and television on such programs as "Wendy Barrie's Okey-Dokey Ranch" after attracting the attention of a prominent songwriter during a grade school performance. After graduating from New York's High School of Music and Art, Elizondo briefly attended the City College of New York and worked as a night club musician before an interest in dance drew him to the Ballet Arts Company in 1962. Sadly, a knee injury put an end to that career path within a year. Turning his attention toward acting, he began studying at the famed Stella Adler Theater and was soon appearing off-Broadway in such productions as "Mr. Roberts" and "Kill the One-Eyed Man!" It was around the same time that Elizondo broke into film with a small debut role in the B-movie "The Big Fat Black Pussycat" (1963). More work on the stage came in 1967 with a notable turn in Bertolt Brecht's "Drums in the Night," followed by Elizondo's auspicious Broadway debut alongside James Earl Jones in "The Great White Hope" in 1968.

Still trying to gain entrée to the world of film, Elizondo picked up a minor cop role in the sexploitation drama "The Vixens" (1969), although it was clearly on stage where he was making a name for himself. He garnered serious acclaim in 1970 for his performance as God - in the guise of a Puerto Rican steam room attendant - in Bruce Jay Friedman's off-Broadway comedy "Steambath," directed by Anthony Perkins. The following year, Elizondo won an Obie Award for his performance in the production. Making more notable strides on screen, he appeared with Burt Lancaster in the race-related Western "Valdez is Coming" (1971), and later worked opposite Robert Shaw as a cold-blooded subway highjacker in the taught crime thriller "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974). Soon after, he starred as family patriarch Abraham Rodriguez on the first Latino-centric network television sitcom, "Popi" (CBS, 1975), just one of the many short-lived series Elizondo would be attached to over the decades. On film, he also landed a rare leading role as an unscrupulous man plotting to murder his overbearing mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald) in the modest noir thriller "Diary of the Dead" (1976).

Continuing to do his best work on stage, Elizondo earned a Drama Desk nomination for his performance as George C. Scott's scheming servant in "Sly Fox" (1976), Larry Gelbart's contemporary reworking of 15th century playwright Ben Jonson's black comedy "Volpone." He went on to work closely with some of the all-time screen greats, such as James Coburn in the miniseries adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's byzantine potboiler "The Dain Curse" (CBS, 1978), and opposite Sean Connery as a pre-Castro military man in director Richard Lester's "Cuba" (1979). In his first legitimately successful film, Elizondo gave an endearing turn as a detective simultaneously investigating and seeking fashion advice from Richard Gere in writer-director Paul Schrader's "American Gigolo" (1980). It was, however, his first work for director Garry Marshall in the madcap medical spoof "Young Doctors in Love" (1982) that led to one of the longest lasting director-actor working relationships in Hollywood. Soon referred to as his "good luck charm" by the filmmaker, Elizondo would go on to appear in nearly every Marshall movie from that point forward.

Elizondo collaborated with Marshall on a slew of other projects in quick succession. He effectively played Matt Dillon's exasperated yet sympathetic working-class father in "The Flamingo Kid" (1984); Tom Hanks' ad agency boss in "Nothing in Common" (1986); and Julia Roberts' guardian angel - in the form of an empathetic Beverly Hills hotel manager - in "Pretty Woman" (1990). It was the latter smash hit film that the actor credited with taking him from someone who people thought looked familiar, to a reliably recognizable - and bankable - face on film and television. Elizondo completed his fifth cinematic collaboration with Marshall - not counting two uncredited cameos in the director's "Overboard" 1987) and "Beaches" (1988) - in the working-class love story "Frankie and Johnny" (1991), in which he played the penny-pinching Greek owner of a New York City-based greasy spoon. The actor remained busy on the small screen as well, in one notable instance starring as attorney Sandy Stern in the TV miniseries "The Burden of Proof" (ABC, 1992), a courtroom thriller adapted from the best-selling Scott Turow novel.

After several false starts, Elizondo found TV series success with a key role as hospital administrator Dr. Watters on the David E. Kelley-created medical drama "Chicago Hope" (1994-2000) throughout the run of the series, earning himself a 1997 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the process. Although Marshall had made one or two films without the actor, Elizondo's near ubiquitous presence in his oeuvre was playfully acknowledged with a title sequence credit of "As usual Hector Elizondo" in the tepid sex farce "Exit to Eden" (1994). He continued on the Marshall payroll in projects that included "Dear God" (1996), "The Other Sister" (1999), "Runaway Bride" (1999) - the eagerly-awaited reunion of Gere and Roberts - and in the teen fairy tale "The Princess Diaries" (2001). Also that year, he headlined the Latin-flavored "Tortilla Soup" (2001), a loose reworking of the 1994 feature "Eat Drink Man Woman," directed by Ang Lee. The Marshall-directed sequel "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" (2004), and "Raising Helen" (2004) followed in short order. Taking a break from the Marshall machine, Elizondo later joined an estimable ensemble cast for the epic Mexico-set family drama "Love in the Time of Cholera" (2007). A misguided adaptation of the revered novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, it was, by and large, savaged by most critics.

That same year, Elizondo was cast as Pancho Duque, the patriarch of a powerful Cuban-American family and owner of a rum and sugar company, in the above average primetime soap "Cane" (CBS, 2007-08). Hopeful that he had at last found a worthy television project near and dear to his heart, Elizondo and co-stars Jimmy Smits and Rita Moreno were crushed after a Writers Guild strike in 2007 inexorably led to the show's premature cancellation. Albeit under less than ideal circumstances, the actor soon rebounded with a regular cast role for the final season of the popular cable mystery series "Monk" (USA Network, 2002-09). Elizondo played Dr. Neven Bell, eponymous series star Tony Shalhoub's new psychiatrist after the actor who played Monk's previous doctor, Stanley Kamel, died of a sudden heart attack in 2008. He inevitably returned to the Marshall stable for the successful romantic ensemble comedy "Valentine's Day" (2010), as well as its quasi-sequel "New Year's Eve" (2011), which found the outwardly disparate lives of several New Yorkers unexpectedly intertwining in the hours leading up to the annual dropping of the ball in Times Square.