Joe Santos, perhaps best known for playing police detective Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files, died on March 18 2016 at the age of 84. The cause was a heart attack.
Joe Santos was born Joseph John Minieri Jr in Brooklyn on June 9 1931. Sadly, his father died on the day of his birth. His mother became a nightclub owner and singer in both New York City and Havanna. For a time she was married to a Puerto Rican-born singer, Daniel Santos. It was from Mr. Santos that young Joe took his stage name.
Joe Santos attended various military schools in New York. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He attended Fordham University where he was on the football team. He made his television debut in a small, uncredited, walk-on part in The Naked City in 1963. During the Sixties he appeared in such films as Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures (1964), Flesh and Lace (1965), Moonlighting Wives (1966), The Tiger Makes Out (1967), and My Body Hungers (1967).
He received his big break when his friend Al Pacino helped get him a role in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). In the Seventies he appeared in such films as The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971), The Legend of N***** Charley (1972), Shaft's Big Score! (1972), Shamus (1973), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Don Is Dead (1973), Blade (1973), and Zandy's Bride (1974). He guest starred on such TV shows as Room 222, Toma, The Blue Knight, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Kung Fu, Baretta, Lou Grant, and Black Sheep Squadron. It was in 1974 that he was cast in the role of Sgt. Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files. He remained with the show for the entirety of its run, during which time his character was promoted to Lieutenant. In 1980 he starred in the short lived sitcom Me and Maxx.
During the Eighties Joe Santos had recurring roles on the shows a.ka. Pablo, Hardcastle and McCormick, Magnum P.I., and Santa Barbara. He guest starred on such shows as Trapper John M.D.; The Greatest American Hero; Hill Street Blues; The A-Team; T.J. Hooker; The Twilight Zone;MacGuyver; Murder, She Wrote; Miami Vice; Quantum Leap; and Hunter. He appeared in the films Blue Thunder (1983), Fear City (1984), The Education of Allison Tate (1986), Beverly Hills Brats (1989), and Revenge (1990).
In the Nineties Mr. Santos reprised his role as Dennis Becker in seven of the eight Rockford Files TV movies. He guest starred on NYPD Blue. He appeared in the films The Last Boy Scout (1991), Mo' Money (1992), Trial by Jury (1994), Art Deco Detective (1994), The Postman (1997), The Right Way (1998), Hammerlock (2000), and Auggie Rose (2000).
In the Naughts Joe Santos had a recurring role on The Sopranos. He appeared in the films Proximity (2001) and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001). His last appearance was in the film Chronic in 2015.
Joe Santos was an extremely prolific actor. In the Seventies he appeared in both movies and on television. Even while playing Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files he continued to guest star on other shows. In the Eighties he had recurring roles on no less than four shows and still found time to guest star on yet others, as well as appear in films. It was Mr. Santos's talent that allowed him to be so prolific. He could play roles with a subtlety that few modern day actors could. More often than not he played tough yet earnest police officers, although he played criminals on more than one occasion. He was part of a gun running scheme in The Friends of Eddie Coyle and a a mob consigliere on The Sopranos. While he played many roles over the years, it may well be Dennis Becker for which he may be best remembered. Joe Santos was perfect in the role of the police detective who was loyal to private eye Jim Rockford, even when it was against his better judgement. Joe Santos was always an actor in demand and one who always gave a good performance. They simply don't make actors like him anymore.