Actor Gregory Sierra of 'Barney Miller' and 'Sanford and Son' dies at age 83

Nicole Acevedo and Montez Flenoury and Variety
·3 min read

Gregory Sierra, best known for his roles as Sgt. Miguel "Chano" Amanguale on the ABC police series "Barney Miller" and as Julio Fuentes on the NBC sitcom "Sanford and Son," has died, his wife, Helene Taber, said Sunday. He was 83.

Sierra died Jan. 4 in Laguna Woods, California, after having battled cancer, Taber said. Sierra, who was of Puerto Rican descent, was born and raised in New York.

Image: Gregory Sierra in 'Miami Vice' (NBC / via Getty Images)
Image: Gregory Sierra in 'Miami Vice' (NBC / via Getty Images)

"He was the most wonderful person," Taber said. "He was a good heart and a brilliant actor."

Actor Edward James Olmos said in a tweet that those who knew Sierra admired his laughter, kindness, wit and "extraordinary artistic ability." Olmos described Sierra as a friend, a mentor and "a force of nature that I was so grateful to have known & worked with. RIP"

Sierra found success in the early 1970s through his recurring role as Julio Fuentes, Fred G. Sanford's neighbor, in "Sanford and Son" — a series based on a British TV program that Norman Lear adapted as a sitcom for NBC alongside Bud Yorkin.

Before he made it to "Sanford and Son," Sierra had already had ties with Lear. He appeared in one episode of the beloved sitcom "All in the Family" as Paul Benjamin, a Jewish extremist. Paul and Archie Bunker strike up a friendship after someone paints a swastika on the family's front door. Paul offers the Bunkers protection but is ultimately killed by a car bomb. It's the only episode with no audience applause to close out the show.

Sierra then played Sgt. Miguel "Chano" Amanguale on "Barney Miller," a sitcom about the lives of a group of New York police detectives working in Greenwich Village's 12th Precinct stationhouse. While the show initially focused on Capt. Barney Miller's work and home life, it gradually became about the officers of the precinct.

Sierra portrayed Chano as a dedicated and dauntless cop who was emotionally invested in his work. Nowhere was this better displayed than in the 1975 episode "The Hero," in which his character kills two suspects while preventing a robbery. His colleagues believe he deserves a commendation, but a distraught Chano feels otherwise, and he breaks down and cries.

Sierra's career remained steady through the end of the '90s, often finding him playing law enforcement roles. He appeared on "Miami Vice," "Murder, She Wrote," "Hill Street Blues" and "MacGyver." His other TV roles included guest spots on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "The X-Files."

"Miami Vice" actor Olivia Brown tweeted that Sierra's death "hurts me."

"Gregory is a beautiful soul and he is deserving of resting in peace. My condolences to his loved ones whom I know loved him so much," Brown said.

In the film "The Towering Inferno," Sierra played Carlo the bartender, and he appeared as a mutant called Verger in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes." His other films included "Papillon," "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid" and Orson Welles' "The Other Side of the Wind."

As a resident of Laguna Woods, he starred in a local production of the play "See How They Run" in 2009. "Any role is demanding if you put yourself through a process," Sierra told The Orange County Register at the time. "Because you expect something of yourself."

He is survived by Taber.