Gregory Sierra: A Look Back at the Iconic Latino Star of TV's "Barney Miller"

Herbie J Pilato

Throughout the 1960s and '70s on television, Gregory Sierra was a welcoming, familiar face. The actor remained so until January 4, 2021, and his tragic demise from cancer in Laguna Woods, California at the age of 83.

Sierra was best known for his roles on the TV sitcoms, Barney Miller and Sanford and Son. But his entire career, before, during, and after those shows, is filled with a remarkable body of work on TV, on film, and on the stage.

As documented on, Sierra’s first major role was in Sanford and Son, beginning in 1972. He played Julio Fuentes, the Sanfords’ Puerto Rican neighbor. While appearing on that ground-breaking Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin series, Sierra made a significant guest appearance on another trailblazing Lear/York show: All in the Family.

On All in the Family, Sierra played a Jewish radical working to stop antisemitism in the neighborhood of bigot Archie Bunker (as portrayed by Carroll O'Connor).

In 1975, Sierra was hired to portray Detective Sergeant Chano Amengual in Barney Miller, whose memorable storylines included his anguish over having to kill two bank robbers in the line of duty.

Sierra also had a recurring role in the final season of ABC's Soap sitcom and enjoyed a brief starring role in Miami Vice before requesting to be written out of that iconic '80s crime drama.

Sierra’s other TV appearances include Hill Street Blues, Growing Pains, Murder, She Wrote, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Sierra's feature films include Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Towering Inferno, Honey I Blew Up the Kid, and A Low Down Dirty Shame.

But it was Sierra's role as Chano on Barney Miller that remained his favorite. As he explained in the book, TV Talk 2: Exploring TV Territory, which was published in 1976:

“I think Barney Miller is much more real than any other cop show. The people in the show have real problems. Kojak never worries. He knows he’s got it made. Everything is always under control on that show. You never see the frustrations of police work or the kind of joking that goes on among real policemen. Those are the kinds of things we show on Barney Miller.”

Upon learning that Sierra passed away in 2021, Miami Vice actor Edward J. Olmos posted the following tribute on Twitter:

"I read this and wept...Gregory Sierra will forever be with us. Those that knew him...[knew] his laughter...his wit...his kindness...his extraordinary artistic ability. He was a friend, a mentor...a force of nature that I was so grateful to have known and worked with."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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