Ricardo Montalban 1920 -- 2008

Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino, Ricardo Montalban to you, passed away this morning in Los Angeles of "complications of old age."

It's hard to think of this vital, smiling, and seductve Mexican-born actor as anything less than robust, but recently the co-star of Lana Turner, Herve Villechaize and William Shatner had been wheelchair-bound.

In this May 27, 1983 file photo, Ricardo Montalban, seated, is on the set "Fantasy Island."

A matinee idol and beloved Latin Lover who co-starred with Esther Williams in "Neptune's Daughter" and "Fiesta," Montalban later resurrected his flagging career with roles on television's "Fantasy Island" and with slyly funny roles as Khan in the 1982 Star Trek film "The Wrath of Khan" and opposite Leslie Nielsen in "The Naked Gun."

(With his prosthetic chest, shoulderlength white hair and interstellar--hipster attitude, Montalban made Khan one of Capt. Kirk's most memorable adversaries.)

As a spokesperson for Chrysler, Montalban purred the praises of "Corinthian leather," immortalized by Billy Crystal on "Saturday Night Live" in a recurring segment, "Quien es mas macho," pitting Montalban versus the actor's friendly adversary Fernando Lamas.

Less well known is Montalban's important activist role in founding the nonprofit foundation Nosotros (" we" in Spanish), to improve the image and boost employment of Latinos in Hollywood. As movie star, TV star, pitchman, spoofster or activist, he gave many enormous pleasure.

Vaya con Dios.

Update: TCM  (Turner Classic Movies) has designated January 23 as Montalban-mania:

The following is the complete schedule for TCM’s Jan. 23 tribute to Ricardo Montalban: 7:30 a.m.         Fiesta (1947) – In his first leading role, Montalban plays a young man whose parents want him to become a toreador, but he is more interested in music.  Esther Williams and Cyd Charisse also star in this musical shot on location in . 9:30 a.m.        

Neptune ’s Daughter (1949) – Once again teaming with Esther Williams, Montalban plays a millionaire playboy trying to win the affections of a bathing suit designer.  This colorful musical features the Oscar®-winning song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” 11:15 a.m.       Latin Lovers (1953) – Montalban vies for the affections of a wealthy heiress played by Lana Turner in this lush, tropical musical directed by Mervyn LeRoy. 1 p.m.              Border Incident (1949) – This early look at the issue of illegal immigration features Montalban and George Murphy in a tense story of agents out to stop a ring smuggling Mexicans across the border. 2:30 p.m.         Battleground (1949) – Montalban gives an outstanding performance as a Mexican-American soldier fighting in during the

Battle of the Bulge.  Van Johnson and John Hodiak co-star. 4:30 p.m.         Across the Wide Missouri (1951) – This pioneer epic starring Clark Gable, Montalban plays a young Indian war chief out to prevent a band of pioneers from reaching their destination.  John Hodiak co-stars. 6 p.m.   The Singing Nun (1966) – In this true story, Montalban plays a warm-hearted priest who helps a guitar-strumming Belgian nun spread her music to the world.  Debbie Reynolds stars, along with Greer Garson, Agnes Moorehead and Chad Everett.