Cheech Marin is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable Hispanic stars. Once half of the stoner-hippie comedy team Cheech and Chong, he enjoyed immense success in the 1970s, but went on to tackle a far wider range of roles. To the surprise of many, he has even played a police detective, and in 1992 released an album of children’s songs. Marin has also become a renowned patron of Chicano art, and is thought to own the largest collection of such in private hands. “I personify all the changes our generation went through, in the extreme,” he joked with a People interviewer in 1998.
The actor was born Richard Anthony Marin on July 13, 1946, in Los Angeles, the third generation in a Mexican-American family. English was his first language, and the accent he later used in the Cheech and Chong routines was wholly fabricated. His father was a Los Angeles police officer, and an uncle on the force was the LAPD’s highest-ranking detective of Hispanic heritage for a number of years. The “Cheech” nickname came from an uncle, who peered at the infant in his crib and declared he resembled a chicharron, the Mexican deep-fried pork skin treat. Marin and his three sisters grew up first in the South-Central area of Los Angeles, a rough section of the city. “By the time I was 7, I had seen three murders,” he told People magazine. His parents then relocated to the San Fernando Valley area, settling in Granada Hills. “It was like moving from Nigeria to Knotts Berry Farm,” Marin said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview with Jesse Hamlin.