R.I.P. Barney Miller and Sanford And Son actor Gregory Sierra

William Hughes
·2 min read

Gregory Sierra has died. Best known for his performances on shows like Sanford And Son, Barney Miller, and in regular TV roles throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, Sierra played more than 100 parts across his long career. He died this week, from cancer. Per Variety, Sierra was 83.

Born in New York, Sierra got his start in acting in the late ’60s, popping up for single-episode stints on shows like Mod Squad, It Takes A Thief, and a recurring part on The Flying Nun. (This is also when he made one of his first periodic forays into film, appearing as a psychic mutant in the second Planet Of The Apes movie, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes.) Among his most prominent roles from this period was a one-shot appearance on All In The Family, in which he played a Jewish “extremist” who befriends Archie Bunker, before being killed by a car bomb at the episode’s end.

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Although appearing in films like The Towering Inferno around this time, Sierra got the first really big bump to his career visibility in 1972, when he began playing the part of Julio Fuentes on Sanford & Son. Quick-witted, and capable of holding his own against Fred Sanford’s racist cracks about Puerto Rican people, Julio appeared in a dozen episodes of the sitcom from ’72 to 1975, gaining national recognition for the role. His profile only grew that same year, when he became one of the stars of new cop sitcom Barney Miller, one in a long string of cop roles he’d hold over his career. Sierra appeared in the first two seasons of the series before moving on to other roles, continuing a trajectory that saw him appear on everything from Gunsmoke to Murder She Wrote to Soap.

In the 1980s, Sierra steered hard into his cop show bona fides, most notably with a co-starring role in the first five episodes of Miami Vice. (He asked to be written off the show, reportedly because living in Miami didn’t agree with him; Edward James Olmos was his eventual replacement.) Well into the ’90s, he continued to appear anywhere a recognizable face and a confident manner seemed to be in order, from Growing Pains to Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Sierra retired from acting in 2000, but did score one more credit before the ultimate end of his career: An appearance in Orson Welles’ long-delayed The Other Side Of The Wind, which was ultimately completed and released in 2018.