Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Chico And The Man Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

When the sitcom "Chico and the Man" premiered on television in 1974, the show was an instant hit with audiences. Inspired by the comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong's skits, creator James Komack's idea for a buddy comedy exploring the generational and social differences between a young Mexican-American and an elderly white widower was exactly what viewers were looking for during an era of diverse, boundary-pushing programming. With one prior well-received sitcom, "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," already in his back pocket, all Komack needed was the perfect cast.

"The Subject Was Roses'" Oscar-winning star Jack Albertson seemed like an obvious choice for the gruff mechanic Ed Brown, but finding the right guy to play the charismatic Chico Rodriguez proved to be slightly more difficult. However, after seeing the then-19-year-old Freddie Prinze perform a stand-up routine on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," Komack knew his search was over. The chemistry between the two actors was unmatched and became the major driving force for the show's four-season success. Today, we remember "Chico and the Man" fondly, as well as Albertson, Prinze, and all the other actors on the show who have since passed away.

[Featured image by NBC Television via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 3.0]

Freddie Prinze

Before "Chico and the Man," a young Freddie Prinze was making a name for himself in the comedy world at clubs such as New York City's The Improv and Catch a Rising Star. In 1973, the comedian made his debut on national television on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" — the big break that led to him being discovered by Komack. His observational humor and charismatic performance impressed Johnny Carson and his audience enough for him to be invited to sit down with the host, which was a rare opportunity for a young up-and-coming comedian such as himself. One year later, he became one of television's biggest stars.

The overwhelming pressures of his rapidly growing fame and his worsening depression grew to be too much for Prinze, and on Jan. 28, 1977, he shot himself in front of his business manager, Marvin Snyder. Prinze was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center, where he died the next day. He was 22 years old. Despite this tremendous loss, Komack and NBC chose to continue "Chico and the Man" without Prinze and replaced him with the 12-year-old character Raul, played by Gabriel Melgar. Prinze's absence went unaddressed on the show until Season 4, Episodes 13 and 14, "Raul Runs Away," but audiences felt this closure was just a little too late. Unable to replicate the same magic Prinze brought to "Chico and the Man," the show suffered as ratings plummeted, and the series was canceled after Season 4.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Jack Albertson

Albertson's career began on the stage with vaudeville and burlesque acts throughout the 1930s and 40s. He made his Broadway debut in 1940 in the short-lived production "Meet the People," and he eventually starred in the 1947 revival of "The Cradle Will Rock" and later in plays such as "Top Banana," "The Sunshine Boys," and "The Subject Was Roses." For "Roses," he won a Tony Award for best supporting actor, which he complemented with an Oscar win for the same role in the 1968 film adaptation. Albertson also starred in the screen adaptation of "Top Banana." However, Albertson became best known for roles such as Grandpa Joe in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and Manny Rosen in "The Poseidon Adventure" before he jumped to NBC for "Chico and the Man." Although Albertson was initially hesitant about the "Chico and the Man" script, the show ended up being his vehicle to TV stardom.

For years after "Chico and the Man" was canceled, Albertson hid his colon cancer diagnosis from the public. He continued working despite his illness. For his final theatrical role, he voiced Amos Slade in Disney's 1981 "The Fox and the Hound" before dying on Nov. 25, 1981, at the age of 74. His legacy as one of Hollywood's most versatile and enduring actors lives on to this day.

Della Reese

The talented singer and actor Della Reese began her career singing gospel alongside the influential Mahalia Jackson. She signed her first record deal in 1954 with Jubilee Records but found even greater success when she signed with RCA Records in 1959. Her song "Don't You Know?" remains one of her most well-known hits. Reese later broke out into television with her talk show "Della," which ran for nearly 200 episodes. Just a few years later, she became a series regular on "Chico and the Man" as Ed's neighbor and landlady, Della Rogers. Following the cancellation of "Chico and the Man," Reese's career continued to flourish with notable roles in projects such as "Harlem Nights" and "Touched by an Angel" before her retirement in 2014.

Reese's health first came into question in 1979 when she suffered a brain aneurysm during a taping of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." She made a full recovery, but nearly 40 years later, her health became a public concern once again. The star's type 2 diabetes had taken a major toll on her. "My life is at stake," she told Radar Online. "I don't have type 2 diabetes — type 2 diabetes has me." On Nov. 19, 2017, Reese died in her California home at the age of 86. She's remembered for her contributions to music, television, and film over the decades and her overall lasting impact on the entertainment industry.

Carole Cook

A native Texan, Carole Cook was first discovered by none other than Lucille Ball, who was impressed enough with reviews of Cook's performance in the stage production of "Annie Get Your Gun" that she invited her to work for her production company Desilu Studios in California. Ball quickly took on the role of Cook's mentor and close friend. Cook appeared in several episodes of "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy," but was also able to make a name for herself outside of Ball's success in films such as "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" and "Sixteen Candles" as well as in theater with the musical "Hello, Dolly!" "I started out in the basement of the First Baptist Church and worked my way up to Broadway, to movies," Cook said in an interview with Everything Zoomer. In 1975 and '76, Cook appeared in three episodes of "Chico and the Man" Season 2 as Ed's girlfriend, Flora, where her comedic talent prospered.

Her career continued for several more decades, and three days before her 99th birthday, Cook died on Jan. 11, 2023, due to heart failure. As an accomplished actress both on screen and on stage, she has left behind a multifaceted legacy where her influence continues to inspire and resonate with audiences worldwide.

Scatman Crothers

The prolific entertainer and singer Scatman Crothers began his career at age 14 when he'd perform in speakeasies in his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana. His singing took him all over the Midwest before he planted his roots in California in the 1940s. He attracted just enough eyes to break out in the film "Meet Me at the Fair." Some of his most well-known movie roles include Dick Hallorann in "The Shining" and Scat Cat in Disney's animated film "The Aristocats." He ventured into television as the first Black person to appear regularly on a Los Angeles television program called "Dixie Showboat." He then went on to play Louie the garbage man for four years in "Chico and the Man." His character is fondly remembered for being a supportive friend to Ed, whose humorous banter and heartfelt advice contributed to the overall dynamic of the show.

In the 1980s, Crothers was diagnosed with lung cancer, which spread to the esophagus and throat. On Nov. 22, 1986, he died in his home in California at the age of 76. His immense talent and remarkable body of work continue to be celebrated and cherished by the masses.

Ronny Graham

Raised by two vaudeville performers, actor Ronny Graham was born to perform, which is evident by his extensive career that spanned decades. After serving in World War II, Graham began as a comic, performing at New York City clubs such as the Upstairs at the Downstairs and Plaza Nine. He eventually made his Broadway debut in "New Faces of 1952" as a writer, songwriter, and performer. He then became well-known for writing for the screen when he wrote episodes of the hit shows "M*A*S*H" and "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour," among others. Later he frequently collaborated with Mel Brooks, co-writing screenplays for "Spaceballs" and "To Be or Not to Be."

Besides his popular commercials, Graham's most well-known and beloved acting role was as Rev. Bemis on "Chico and the Man." However, on July 4, 1999, more than two decades after his time on the show, Graham died due to liver complications at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 79. Although his character only appeared in one season, Graham is remembered fondly for his work on "Chico and the Man" and his immense talent as a writer.

Avery Schreiber

The curly-haired, bushy-mustached comedian Avery Schreiber wasn't just well-known for his eccentric looks but also for his exaggerated physicality and slapstick humor. He rose to fame with fellow comedian Jack Burns as the comedy duo of Burns and Schreiber. "It was a marriage of opposites," Burns described to The Los Angeles Times. "He was Jewish, I was Irish. He was mellow and sweet and optimistic and I was angry and cynical and pessimistic." The two made numerous appearances on television and, in 1973, were given their own series, "The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour." Two years later, Schreiber made two unforgettable guest appearances on "Chico and the Man" in the episodes "The Misfortune Teller" and "Play Gypsy" as a fortune teller.

Schreiber continued working as a comedian and actor until his death on Jan. 7, 2002, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at the age of 66. Schreiber died of a heart attack. He was well-remembered by his colleagues, such as comedian Joan Rivers.

Roger C. Carmel

Transitioning from Broadway to television, Roger C. Carmel began landing roles in hit shows like "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Batman," and, of course, "Chico and the Man," for which he appeared in the episodes "The Giveaway" and "Long Live the Man" in 1975 as Father O'Malley. He then achieved his first starring role in Desi Arnaz's series "The Mothers-in-Law," which he appeared in for 30 episodes. Although he left after one season, that didn't slow down his career, and he continued working as both an actor and a voice actor. He became most well-known for his role as the con artist Harry Mudd in the original "Star Trek" series as well as "Star Trek: The Animated Series." Later in life, he was the spokesperson in the Mexican fast food restaurant Naugles' advertisements.

However, on Nov. 11, 1986, Carmel was found dead in his California home due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. His life and career were cut short at the young age of 54, and he's remembered for his impact on the entertainment industry with his memorable performances.

Ralph Manza

Ralph Manza spent decades hard at work carving out a space for himself within the entertainment industry after serving in the United States Army during World War II. Throughout his career, Manza showcased a talent for both comedic and dramatic roles. In film, Manza delivered memorable performances in notable movies such as "The Enemy Below," "The Hunters," and "Get Shorty." In the realm of television, you could find his appearances on popular shows such as "General Hospital," "The Twilight Zone," and "Newhart." He also left a lasting impression on "Chico and the Man" viewers as Hector Gomez in the episodes "Ed the Hero" and "Chico and the Van." With his impeccable comedic talent and authentic charm, Manza was able to achieve nearly 200 screen credits. Among those credits are appearances on some of the biggest sitcoms of the 1990s: "Doogie Howser, M.D.," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Seinfeld," "Home Improvement," and "Friends."

On Jan. 31, 2000, the character actor died at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, California, in the aftermath of a heart attack that came on during the filming of a Budweiser commercial. He was 78 years old.

Bill McLean

Character actor Bill McLean appeared in a total of nine episodes over the course of the four-season run of "Chico and the Man," but only once as the same character twice. Some of his most memorable roles include Alfred in the episodes "Natural Causes" and "The Doctor Story" and District Attorney H. R. Bernstein in "Play Gypsy."

McLean's career began in the 1940s and spanned decades until his eventual retirement in the late '80s. He began by acting in many war films in the late 1940s through the '50s, including "Fighter Squadron," "I Was a Male War Bride," "You're in the Navy Now," and "Stalag 17," all in small, mostly uncredited roles. Throughout the 1960s, McLean accumulated guest roles on many popular TV shows, including "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," "Perry Mason," "The Twilight Zone," and "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." As he continued acting in small television parts and brushing shoulders with huge stars like Andy Griffith, he also appeared in films like "Coach" and "House." Every one of McLean's jobs within the entertainment industry, no matter their size, contributed to his legacy — he was a popular bit player who'd appeared in everything from Billy Wilder and Cary Grant films to "The Dukes of Hazzard." On Nov. 18, 1994, McLean died in Los Angeles at the age of 77.

Tim Herbert

Before Tim Herbert was Tim Herbert, he went by his father's name, famous vaudeville actor Herman Timberg, to build off his father's success and eventually make a name of his own. By the 1940s, Herbert started going by the stage name he's now best known for today. During the rapid popularity of television in the 1960s, Herbert began working as a character actor in many of the era's hit TV shows such as "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Addams Family," "The Lucy Show," and "Get Smart." He also appeared in two "Batman" projects — first as a henchman named Whiskers in the Adam West series, then as Killer Moth in a "Batgirl" short. He also had small roles in big films like "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," "Soylent Green," and Steven Spielberg's directorial debut, "Duel."

His talent and versatility especially shined during his multiple appearances on "Chico and the Man" as various characters in the episodes "The Giveaway," "Too Many Crooks," "Charo and the Matador," and "Ed Brown's Car Wash." The show came toward the end of his career. Less than a decade after his final appearance on "Chico and the Man," Herbert died from a heart attack on June 20, 1986, in Los Angeles.

Angelina Estrada

In Season 2 of "Chico and the Man," actor Angelina Estrada impressed viewers with her subtle comedic chops and undeniable charm as Chico's Aunt Connie in the episode "Aunt Connie." She and Albertson shared some on-screen chemistry as Albertson's character made advancements toward his new romantic interest. Just a few months later, Estrada returned as the beloved character in the hilarious episode "The Return of Aunt Connie," in which her character is revealed to be a con artist.

Following her appearances in "Chico and the Man," which started her career in Hollywood, Estrada landed minor roles in prominent '90s movies such as "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare," playing Carlos' mother, and "Ghost," in which she played a customer of Oda Mae Brown's (Whoopi Goldberg). She also had a recurring role on the hit TV series "Martin" as Gloria Rodriguez. By the 2000s, Estrada retired, and she later died on Aug. 5, 2005, in Las Vegas at the age of 73.

Tina Menard

Born in Imuris, Sonora, Mexico, in 1904, actor Tina Menard made two memorable appearances on "Chico and the Man" in 1975 as the character Mrs. Rosada in the episodes "The Misfortune Teller" and "The Strike." Menard had been acting for decades before she first appeared in "Chico and the Man." Though never in a starring role, Menard appeared in popular films like Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious," the James Dean film "Giant," and John Frankenheimer's "Seven Days in May." She played larger roles in 1930s Westerns, playing Lolita in "Loser's End," Rosita in "The Nevada Buckaroo," and Rita in "The Cheyenne Tornado."

Many of Menard's other roles were uncredited or bit parts, though she also occasionally worked as an interpreter on film sets. Although Menard was known to take smaller character roles in film and television, she worked constantly, through her 70s, as she continued appearing in TV series and TV movies. On June 10, 1993, Menard died in Los Angeles at the age of 88.