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Dr. Stable and Mr. Hip

Hector Elizondo may play a hospital chief of staff on TV, but in real life he's a cool cat.
Joe Rhodes
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 4)

"My dad didn't smoke cigars that often, but he knew people who had little cigar factories in New York, in the Bronx, and I still remember quite fondly being schlepped off to see Uncle Chu Chu or Cousin Herman on a Sunday when they'd open the factory for their friends and relatives and they'd take me along. Eventually, they would all settle down around a round table, bring out the rum, smoke cigars and talk. That's where I heard that the best cigars were rolled on the thighs of virgins, all that stuff.

"There's something about cigars that got them talking about dames. I understand it now. It's because the cigars are so tactile and sensual. A cigar is something to be considered, you know? You can't take it frivolously. It's not a fast smoke that you just flick away."

By his mid-30s, Elizondo was smoking several cigars a day, a habit from which he pulled back until just a few years ago. "I was wreathed in smoke all the time," he says, laughing. "It was too much."

Now he smokes only a couple of times a week, usually on the balcony outside his garage. "I like sitting out there with a good read, or maybe up here with a pal, sitting on the old balustrade, having a good schmooze."

It was Elizondo's idea to have Dr. Watters, his "Chicago Hope" alter ego, be a cigar smoker. The on-screen smokes are usually H. Upmann Coronas, although in real life Elizondo's tastes are eclectic--everything from Cuban Partagas to Santa Damianas, a mild Dominican cigar.

"I don't get too fancy and I don't get too esoteric about it," he says. "Someone hands me a good cigar, I take it. And I'll give them one in return. I love that part of it. But I don't want to become a repository of cigar knowledge or anything. I feel about the cigars the way I feel about religion. I don't profess to having a religion because I don't want it to get between me and God, you know?"

The one thing Elizondo will never do is frequent cigar clubs. "It's too trendy, man," he says, his face pinching in displeasure. "It's like guys showing off their penis. My penis is from Cuba. My penis is from Honduras. I'm not interested in that. There's too much posturing, and you can't differentiate the aroma, anyway. I mean, get outta here with this blue haze. Pretension, man, it makes me ralph!"

The sun going down, Elizondo is clearly enjoying this afternoon of unhurried conversation. He spins a tale about the best cigar moment he ever experienced, when he was in Morocco several years ago, making the movie Being Human with Robin Williams. "I was just walking the streets of Rabat, in a marketplace, smoking my cigar and feeling like I'm on another planet. It was a gorgeous night, with a crescent moon, twilight in Arabia with this delicious cigar and then, I heard the call to prayer and I went, 'Man, this is wonderful.'"

The story, or maybe it's the setting sun, makes him reflective. He talks about how he would like to work less and have more time to himself. He laments that he rarely practices his guitar or finds time to play chess. He keeps telling himself that he'll take some time off, go off in the wilderness with his backpack, but there always seems to be another project--a movie or a play--dangled in front of him, too enticing to refuse.

"Once you've been a struggling poor actor, man, it's tough to turn good parts down," he says.

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