R.I.P. Gregory Sierra, actor in everything from Gunsmoke to Barney Miller

He played tough cops, funny neighbors and even visited Walton’s mountain.

The Everett Collection

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Gregory Sierra, an actor who was hard to miss on TV in the 1970s and worked steadily through the 1990s, has died at the age of 83. His most famous roles include Fred Sanford’s neighbor, Julio, on Sanford and Son and Detective Miguel “Chano” Amenguele on Barney Miller. The prolific actor also appeared in Gunsmoke, Columbo and Hawaii Five-O.

Growing up in Spanish Harlem in the 1940s and '50s, Sierra felt the pull of gang life but also attended a prep school for boys looking to become priests – the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception. Sierra, however, rejected both futures when he fell in love with performing after accompanying a friend to an acting class.

Throughout the 1960s, Sierra became an accomplished Shakespearian actor. He toured with the National Shakespeare Company and performed in the New York Shakespeare Festival. As the Sixties came to an end, Sierra left the east coast stage to try his luck in Hollywood.

In 1969, he won roles in shows like The Flying Nun and It Takes a Thief. The following year he appeared in The Mod Squad, Mission: Impossible and played Verger in his feature film debut Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Sierra then appeared in the 1971 movie Red Sky at Morning starring John-Boy Walton himself, Richard Thomas. The two would work together again just two years later in an episode of The Waltons. Also in 1973 was Sierra’s intense performance as Jewish vigilante Paul Benjamin in one of the most dramatic episodes of All in the Family. After the tragic climactic moments, the episode ends with silence instead of the usual audience applause.

Sierra had a bigger role in another Norman Lear sitcom, Sanford and Son. He faced Fred Sanford’s anti-Puerto Rican prejudice as neighbor Julio Fuentes. Sierra also played a character with similar heritage to his own when he embodied Det. Sgt. Miguel Amenguale in the 1970s police dramedy Barney Miller. Amenguale, nicknamed “Chano,” was a proud Puerto Rican New Yorker dedicated to protecting his city. The emotional episode “The Hero,” in which Chano kills two robbery suspects, put Sierra’s talent as an actor on full display.

Barney Miller co-creator and producer Danny Arnold envisioned a new series for Sierra that allowed for a fresh mix of laughter and tears. A.E.S. Hudson Street premiered in 1978 and portrayed the chaos of an overworked New York City emergency hospital. Sierra lead the show as Dr. Antonio “Tony” Menzies. Unfortunately, it was canceled after only a few episodes.

Over the next two decades, Sierra appeared in a wide range of projects including Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Cagney & Lacey, Growing Pains, MacGyver, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

His most recent movie came out just a few years ago, though its release is somewhat misleading. Gregory Sierra was part of the large cast of Orson Welles’ satire The Other Side of the Wind. Filmed in the 1970s, the picture was shelved for decades until the raw footage was finally edited down into a digestible form in 2018.

 
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Oscar 14 days ago
I think it's safe to say he was the best Puerto Rican character actor of all-time. He gave his best in every role and was always worth watching. No one could have played the part of Julio Fuentes on 'Sanford & Son' better than Gregory Sierra. R.I.P.
Newyorkcitygal 4 months ago
Great actor! Loved him in Barney Miller. Loved his awesome accent too! God bless you and rest in peace.
Whitedevil 4 months ago
Out of all the characters he played I thought Felix Barbosa was the best... rest in peace Felix the rat, I hope on Resurrection Day morning me and Eddie can have barbecued shrimp with you
FrankCollins 4 months ago
Barney MIller was surely one of the top 10 best TV shows of all time.
Aperez 4 months ago
I remember him as Julio in Sanford and Son comedy show. He had a small part in the movie Papillon with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Very proud of his hispanic heritage! R.I.P.
Ric 4 months ago
Adios, Hermano, Good Bye, Brother.
Now you'll have an opportunity to truly Serve THE LORD. We'll miss You.
RalphJames 4 months ago
I remember Gregory playing the role of Felix Barbossa opposite Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Golbume in the movie DEEP COVER he played that role to the hill! One fine movie
Whitedevil RalphJames 4 months ago
Felix the rat Felix the rat Eddie gave it up to the cops and he paid Felix should pay as well... never again
CS 4 months ago
Sierra also played the bartender in "The Towering Inferno" who values a case of exclusive champagne over his own life.
TheDavBow3 4 months ago
I remember him on Sanford and Son. Very funny. Wonderful and smart actor. Rest In Peace.
gumby7 4 months ago
A great actor who could make you laugh and cry at the same time.
RIP G.S.
Corey 4 months ago
I loved Gregory Sierra on Barney Miller.
RobertM 4 months ago
It should be noted that, in the “Hawaii-Five-O” episode in which he appeared, he played a loanshark trying to take over the Honolulu prostitution racket; in the process, he orders the murder of a stubborn pimp—played by his future “Barney Miller” co-star Ron Glass.
Wiseguy RobertM 4 months ago
Hawaii Five-0, with a zero.
Oscar Wiseguy 14 days ago
It looks much better with the 'O' instead of the '0'.
PatMarie7go 4 months ago
GREAT CHARACTER ACTOR. ESPECIALLY, ON SANFORD AND SON. RIP..PDUB WALKER
Nickopolis 4 months ago
An iconic image from my 1970s childhood. He was on tv all the time and so polished, so intense - he made it look easy. C'mon he was in Hit Shots Part Deux.
DethBiz 4 months ago
RIP Gregory. I always get a smile when I think of him doing the tv commercial when he and the Sanfords combined their junk businesses together. He was great as a villainous henchman in the Robert Mitchum movie The Wrath of God. I think the last thing I saw him in was an episode of Beyond Belief Fact or Fiction where he was hard of hearing.
daDoctah 4 months ago
Not mentioned above was Sierra's portrayal of "El Puerco", the Central American revolutionary who kidnapped Jessica Tate on "Soap".
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