Joe Santos


1931-2016. Brooklyn, New York City

When asked why he decided upon becoming an actor, Joe Santos tended to trot out the tried-and-true rationale "because I failed at everything else." While attending Fordham University, Santos excelled at football, but lost interest in the sport after a few semi-pro years. By the time he was 30, Santos had been remarkably unsuccessful in a variety of vocations, including railroad worker, tree cutter, automobile importer and tavern owner. While working a construction job in New York, Santos was invited by a friend to sit in on an acting class. This seemed like an easy way to make a living, so Santos began making the audition rounds, almost immediately landing a good part on a TV soap opera. This gig unfortunately led nowhere, and for the next year or so Santos drove a cab for 10 to 11 hours a day. The novice actor's first big break was a part in the 1971 film Panic in Needle Park, which he received at the recommendation of the film's star (and Santos' frequent softball partner) Al Pacino. With the plum part of Sergeant Cruz in the four-part TV drama The Blue Knight (1973), Santos inaugurated a fruitful, still-thriving career in "cop" roles, the best and longest-lasting of which was detective Dennis Becker on the James Garner series The Rockford Files (1974-80). Joe Santos' other series-TV credits include the top-billed part of deadbeat dad Norman Davis in Me and Maxx (1980), Hispanic nightclub comic Paul Rodriguez' disapproving father in AKA Pablo (1984), and Lieutenant Frank Harper in the 1985-86 episodes of Hardcastle and McCormick. One of his final roles was a recurring gig on The Sopranos. Santos died in 2016, at age 84.