Trini Lopez, a popular singer and musician who also starred in Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen, died Tuesday at 83 of complications from COVID-19, Palm Springs Life magazine first reported. Lopez had lived in Palm Springs since the 1960s, and is the subject of a documentary by filmmakers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, who planned to release My Name Is Lopez in early 2021.
Lopez was born Trinidad Lopez III in Dallas, Texas, the son of two parents from Mexico, the documentarians revealed while speaking to Palm Springs Life. Beginning his musical career at 15, Lopez and his group the Big Beats were signed in 1958 by Columbia Records after recording with Buddy Holly producer Norman Petty. Going solo soon after, Lopez scored a residency at the Los Angeles nightclub PJ's after a number of unsuccessful singles, where he was seen by Frank Sinatra and signed to Reprise Records in 1963.
View this post on Instagram
His debut album later that year, Trini Lopez at PJ's, featured a cover of "If I Had a Hammer" that hit the top of the charts worldwide, going as high as number three in the U.S. He released a number of live and studio albums over the years, with hits including "Lemon Tree," "I'm Comin' Home, Cindy," "Sally Was a Good Old Girl," "Michael," "Gonna Get Along Without Ya' Now" and "The Bramble Bush." He would continue to perform into his later years, especially in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, where he was awarded a star on the Palm Springs' Walk of Stars in 1993 and on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars in 2008.
He also starred in the applauded 1967 World War II movie The Dirty Dozen alongside actors such as Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, John Cassavetes, Lee Marvin, Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas. He also had television appearances on Adam-12 and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Lopez's story is one of success during a time in which Latino people were discriminated against widely, Ebersole pointed out to Palm Springs Life.
"People don't really remember that Latinos were treated the same way by the Jim Crow laws. They had to sit in the back of the bus with the Blacks. They weren't allowed to stay in hotel rooms," Ebersole explained of Lopez's early years. "So right as Trini was trying to get his career going in the mid-to-late 1950s, [the U.S. government] deported over 2 million Mexicans. Whether or not they had legal status, they just picked them up, rounded them up, and stuck them on buses, planes, and sent them home. Trini triumphed over all of that, and had this incredible life, and became kind of an American icon in his own way. It's just a great story."