Seemingly born to fit on a motorcycle, Erik Estrada shaped an indelible image as the hard-charging costar of the hit television series "CHiPs," which dramatized the exploits of California Highway Patrol officers. After his career briefly hit the skids, he shifted gears—and even languages—to become a heartthrob of Spanish-language TV soap operas.
Born in Spanish Harlem, N.Y., in 1949, Estrada was part of a large, fatherless family and came to understand life on the streets—knowledge that brought credibility to his role in "CHiPs." While in high school, he was encouraged by a girlfriend to try out for a school play, and quickly fell in love with acting. He worked overtime at a laundromat to pay his tuition at the American Musical Dramatic Academy.
The burly Estrada won his first acting gig as the Mexican "Frito Bandito" in a commercial for Fritos. His movie debut was far less whimsical, as a street punk whose life becomes transformed by a caring minister in "The Cross and the Switchblade," released in 1970. Estrada beat out more than 100 other actors for the part by ad-libbing his lines and convincingly wielding a prop knife.
Voted by People magazine as one of "the 10 Sexiest Bachelors in the World," Estrada played rookie cop Sergio Duran in 1972's "The New Centurions," which spawned his success in television. He began his defining role as motorcycle patrolman Frank "Ponch" Poncherello on "CHiPs" in 1977. He has also appeared on a number of reality shows and infomercials.