Erik Estrada Quick Facts That CHiPs Fans Might Not Know

In the 1970s, NBC released the show "CHiPs." The show premiered on September 15, 1977, and showed a lighter approach to law enforcement.

Erik Estrada played California Highway Patrol officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the show.  He went on to work on Spanish-language telenovelas and reality television shows.

He also appeared in infomercials and also voiced the Adult Swim series "Sealab 2021." Here are fifteen facts about Erik Estrada that fans might not know.

Actor Erik Estrada arrives to Hello Kitty Con 2014 Opening Night Party Co-hosted by Target  | Getty Images

Actor Erik Estrada arrives to Hello Kitty Con 2014 Opening Night Party Co-hosted by Target | Getty Images

1. Caitlyn Jenner Once Replaced Erik Estrada

Estrada left the series at the beginning of the fifth season after a dispute over salary. Producers went on to hire Olympian Caitlyn (then Bruce) Jenner to replace him.

The athlete was already working for NBC Sports as a commentator at the time and was an experienced motorcyclist. Estrada and MGM eventually reached an agreement and Jenner’s character was phased off the show after just seven episodes.

2. Erik & Larry Wilcox Did Not Get Along

Onscreen, co-stars Estrada and Wilcox were perfect partners. However, reports state that off-camera the pair could not stand each other. In fact, when Wilcox got married in 1980 he refused to invite Estrada and revealed to people they had always been arguing, saying

"I thought it was asinine to pick someone just for being photogenic. Erik and I are just totally different human beings, and I can't get a good relationship going." 

3. Erik Never Drew His Gun On The Show

"CHiPs" had a very conservative approach to ammunition and a fan count revealed that a gun was drawn by police in just three out of 139 episodes. None of those were by Estrada or Wilcox. Estrada told ABC News :

“It was about helping pedestrians, people in trouble, the young kids who are straying."

Actor Erik Estrada attends the grand opening of Police Chase Las Vegas on January 19, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Getty Images

Actor Erik Estrada attends the grand opening of Police Chase Las Vegas on January 19, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Getty Images

4. Estrada Was Injured During a Stunt

Estrada insisted on doing many of his own motorcycle stunts. During the shooting of a 1979 episode, the actor was critically injured after losing control of his bike while cruising around for a scene.

He braked abruptly and was thrown into a parked car chest-first while his bike landed on top of him. He broke eight ribs, his sternum, his collarbone, and his wrist. On his return to the show, MGM gave him with a $100,000 Rolls Royce Corniche.

5. First Big Break

Erik Estrada's first big break was in 1970. He landed a role in the hit show "The Cross and the Switchblade."

However, it was only in 1977 when he was launched to fame. The actor made landed the role of Ponch on the popular police drama "CHiPs" that defined his career. 

6. Estrada Inspired The Village People Cop

While the star was not the main character of the show, his blinding smile and good looks made him a pop-culture staple.  According to TV Guide, Estrada’s appearance left a lasting impression on Victor Willis of the Village People.

According to the report, Willis took notice of his extra-tight patrol uniform. Willis then decided to draw inspiration from it for his role as the “cop” in the musical group.  

7. Ponch Was First Supposed to be Italian

The role of Frank Poncherello was originally Poncherelli. The producers had initially intended for the character to be Italian.

However, when Estrada auditioned for the role they changed their minds. They made the decision even though Estrada punched a door during the meeting from frustration after messing up a line.

Photo of Erik Estrada as "Ponch" Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Jon Baker from the television series CHiPS. | Getty Images

Photo of Erik Estrada as "Ponch" Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Jon Baker from the television series CHiPS. | Getty Images

8. Early Life

Erik Estrada was born on March 16, 1949, in New York. He grew up in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of the city.

His parents split up when he was only two years old. Following their split, Estrada lived with his mother, siblings, and grandfather. 

9.  Love for Acting

Estrada first started acting in high school. He joined the school's drama club and after graduation, he continued to follow his dream and studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

10. Marriages

Erik Estrada has been married three times. He has been married to his third wife, Nanette Mirkovich, since 1997.

11. Children

Eric has two sons, Anthony Erik and Brandon Michael-Paul, from his second marriage to Peggy Rowe. He also shares a daughter named Francesca with his current wife.

12. Reunion Movie in 1998

In 1998, "CHiPs" returned to screens more than 15 years after the series ended. Wilcox joined Estrada for a reunion film. The movie aired on TNT in October 1998.

Erik Estrada at DragonCon '07 in Atlanta, GA | Wikimedia Commons

Erik Estrada at DragonCon '07 in Atlanta, GA | Wikimedia Commons

13. Reality-TV

Estrada went on to become a popular figure on reality television. He joined adult-film star Ron Jeremy, rapper Vanilla Ice, former televangelist Tammy Faye Messner in the second season of "The Surreal Life."

Then in 2007, he appeared in "Armed & Famous." The show had celebrities work alongside real police officers. 

Mid Atlantic Nostalgia convention Hunt Valley M.D. Sept 2017 | Getty Images

Mid Atlantic Nostalgia convention Hunt Valley M.D. Sept 2017 | Getty Images

14. Estrada Became A Real Cop

Estrada was quoted as saying he originally wanted to be a police officer before becoming an actor. In high school, he fell in love with acting and ended up pursuing that instead.

However, in 2006, Estrada became a reserve officer for Muncie, Indiana’s police force. First, he joined as part of a reality show but returned in 2008 to work a night patrol shift and currently works for the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

15. He Took a Picture With All the Famous Guests

Estrada loved watching television and was a big fan of many TV celebrities while he was growing up in the projects in Harlem. When he eventually met them while acting he made sure to get pictures with them. He said

"I got to meet so many celebrities I watched. Sid Caesar, Ed McMahon, 'The Honeymooners,' all these actors and actresses on other shows, who would guest star on our show. That was great. I always took a Polaroid with everyone and kept them. I'm a big fan. I flip out when I see someone and go, 'Oh my God, I gotta get a photo.'"

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