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See "CHiPs" Star Erik Estrada, Who's Now a Real Police Officer, at 72

His childhood dream was to be a cop, not an actor.

Erik Estrada came to fame 45 year ago playing a California Highway Patrol officer, and today, he's working in law enforcement in real life. The actor is best known for starring on the crime drama CHiPs as Frank "Ponch" Poncherello from 1977 to 1983. Since then, he's continued acting but has also taken on a new career, as an actual police officer. At 72 years old, Estrada has done reality TV, written a book about his life, and raised three children, as well. Read on to learn more about what he's up to today and how he turned his fictional job into a real one.

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He kept acting after the show ended.

Erik Estrada at the 2021 Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade
Michael Mattes / Shutterstock

Estrada's main claim to fame is CHiPs, but that wasn't the only popular series he's been a part of. The actor also starred in the Mexican telenovela Dos mujeres, un camino in the early '90s and had a role on the U.S. soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful in the early '00s. Some of his many TV guest appearances include Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, King of the Hill, Popular, My Name Is Earl, and Liv and Maddie. From 2000 to 2005, he voiced a character on the animated series Sealab 2021.

He's taken part in some hit reality TV shows.

Erik Estrada at Hallmark Channel's Home & Family in 2020
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Estrada has appeared on a number of reality TV shows, both competition and otherwise. They include The Surreal Life, Armed & Famous, Mira quién baila, Battle of the Network Stars, and Worst Cooks in America.

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He wrote a memoir.

Erik Estrada at the 2018 American Humane Hero Dog Awards
Joe Seer / Shutterstock

In 1997, Erik Estrada: My Road from Harlem to Hollywood was released. In a 2016 interview with TV Insider, Estrada spoke about his upbringing in New York's Spanish Harlem and how he ended up acting. "I'm a worker. I came out here to work," he said. "I wasn't looking for the stardom. That came. I came out here to work and look for roles and get my mother out of the projects. I was able to do that." He added, "I'm not one to chill because I started working at the age of five selling snow cones in the streets of Harlem when I was a kid and shine shoes and all that. I'm a worker. I can't sit."

He started working in law enforcement.

Erik Estrada at the 88th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parada in 2019
John Wolfsohn/Getty Images

In the TV Insider interview, Estrada explained that he had wanted to be a police officer ever since he was a kid but fell into acting instead, initially to impress a woman he was interested in. "I did it just to meet her, and next thing I know, I got bit by the acting bug," he said.

But he went on to say that, after his show business career took off, he "was presented with an opportunity to go to Muncie, Indiana and do a reserve shift of seven weeks."

"I took it," Estrada continued. "I wanted to see if I still had that passion as a child, my first passion. I did. I realized that I did, so I stayed. I did it and I stayed a cop and am still a cop. I do internet crimes against children. I promote internet safety and I promote internet safety education in schools, because nobody's teaching our children how to be safe in these chat rooms and they're getting taken."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, after serving as a reserve police officer in Muncie, Estrada became a deputy sheriff in Bedford County, Virginia and a reserve police officer in St. Anthony, Idaho.

He's been married three times and has three children.

Nanette Mirkovich and Erik Estrada at the 2018 American Humane Hero Dog Awards
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Estrada is a dad of three, including two sons with his second wife and a daughter with his third and current wife. In a 2007 interview with Parade, he was asked if anything can top the popularity he experienced while CHiPs was airing. "Having children tops all that. Having a daughter who is mad about you tops all that," he said.

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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