More: Are you ready to boogie on down?
Erik Estrada: Yeah. It is time to step out. I haven't been on Latin TV in a while, and my mother was telling me, “I want you to do something with Latin television. I am not getting any younger.”
More: Why dancing instead of returning to a soap opera?
EE: I thought it would be challenging for me and it would be a lot of fun. I would also get the opportunity to be in the Latin culture and back in the neighborhood. For me, that was awesome. But the other reason was, I am raising money for a charity I am very fond of called Smile Train. They are an organization that hires doctors to perform operations in Mexico and South America to fix children's cleft lips and palates.
More: Why this particular charity?
EE: I am known as the guy with a great smile, right? [Laughs.] I want to see my smile on so many children and bring attention to a great cause.
More: So you are moving and grooving to raise some dough?
EE: For $250 you can fix a cleft and give a child a great smile. Imagine what I can do for 50 grand for these little faces!
More: How would you rate your dancing abilities?
EE: I am standard. I am no Fred Astaire.
More: Do you still get recognized as Ponch from your former TV series CHiPs?
EE: Oh yeah. I will always be Ponch to the world. It is terrific. I love Ponch! I had a great time, and I was playing a cop, something I always wanted to be.
More: So what happened?
EE: I got bit by the acting bug and chased a career on TV. You know, now I am a real cop.
More: I read that somewhere.
EE: I work for the Bedford County Sheriff’s department in Bedford, Virginia. I am with the ICAC [Internet Crimes Against Children] Task Force.
More: What made you get involved with them?
EE: I saw some things that broke my heart at a secret hideout. I got so enraged, angry and emotional at what I saw that I decided to get engaged and get sworn in. We do quite a few arrests and have even made headway in terms of Internet safety in the school system.
More: How did it make you feel to see the horrors of what happens when adults take advantage of young children?
EE: It was horrible. I broke down and cried and then got so angry. What they do to young girls is awful. A lot of nasty things happen to children. My job now is to protect them and prevent this from happening again. I also do a lot to raise money to help fight these crimes. I want to use my celebrity to make a difference and save children.
More: Because CHiPs was such a hit on TV, you had millions of women screaming your name.
EE: Yes, I did.
More: What was it like to be one of the sexiest men in America?
EE: It was awesome. Every day I felt like I was at Toys “R” Us. It was a different mentality back then. It was all about free love and disco. It was a wonderful time, and, I will say, I had so many adventures.
More: You left the show at one point and then returned. Why?
EE: I had a quiet 50 percent ownership of the net profit participation of the show through renegotiations every year. When they sold the show to syndication for, like, $75 million, I got my attorney, walked into MGM and said, ‘Let’s draw up a contract for quarterly payments.’
More: How did they respond?
EE: They told me to get out, and I told them I wasn’t showing up for work tomorrow. Then they decided to sue me for $40 million. On top of that, they replaced me, called me a Hollywood bad boy and smeared my reputation. I knew I had a deal where they had to deliver six years with Erik Estrada as Ponch. That was my smoking gun. Their deal was based on delivering episodes with Erik Estrada as Poncherello, and when this happened, only four seasons were under the belt.
More: So you came back?
EE: Yes. They dropped their lawsuit against me, paid me, and I went back to work.
More: Sounds like it all worked out?
EE: No. They blacklisted me for a while.