Loved ones remember San Juan actor Agapito ‘Pete’ Leal as ‘joyful’

dfwnewsa | November 7, 2023 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

Loved ones remember San Juan actor Agapito ‘Pete’ Leal as ‘joyful’

San Juan native Agapito “Pete” Leal, who graced many television and movie screens, died on Sunday morning, Oct. 29 in Palm Springs, California. (Courtesy photo)

San Juan native Agapito “Pete” Leal died on Sunday morning, Oct. 29 in Palm Springs, California.

He leaves behind an extensive filmography in television, film and commercials, as well as a long line of family members and friends he made throughout his eventful life.

Through intermittent tears of sadness and joy, those closest to Leal reflected on the man with the large mustache and the light that he brought to everyone who met him.

“My first memories of him is being joyful,” Leal’s great-niece Monica Martinez-Hamilton recalled. “It was just a complete joy to be in his presence, how loving he was, and how he appreciated family. I think all of that has to do with his humble beginnings and all the different mile markers he met and passed to get to where he was.”

She recalled the last time she’d spoken to her beloved Tio Pito, roughly two weeks before his death. He’d called to thank her for a tortilla blanket that she’d bought him.

“I told him that it was a taco that wouldn’t make him sick because he was diabetic,” Martinez-Hamilton said. “We laughed about it. He loved it very much. That was our last conversation.”

Leal was the youngest of nine siblings. He grew up working the fields with other migrant workers, but his love for adventure and magnetic personality would lead him out of the Rio Grande Valley and onto television and movie screens throughout the world.

He found work in commercials, which saw him become the face of Pringles’ Spanish language advertisements with his trademark mustache as Pepe Pringle. He would go on to star in the popular television show “Carrascolendas,” in which he played the village cafe owner.

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Pete Leal, left, is seen in a file photo from the PBS show “Carrascolendas.”

“RIP, our dear ‘Uncle Pete’, our loveable Pete Leal, our Caracoles from ‘Carrascolendas’, the always adorable, kind, funny and sweet Agapito C. Leal, who passed away Sunday October 29th, at 85 years old,” read a post on the “Carrascolendas” Facebook page. “Our condolences to his partner, family and friends. We will miss you, Uncle Pete! Forever in our hearts!”

He would grace television screens for the rest of his life, including roles on “Los Beltran,” the “George Lopez” show and “American Family.” He was also a frequent presence in movie’s, most recently the dark comedy “Moving On” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

Despite his success in the entertainment industry, he was always “Tio Pito” to his family and those who were fortunate to know him.

“I think about him, and what I do is smile and laugh,” Leal’s niece Gracie Santillan Garcia said. “I have so many good memories. He was always jovial and happy — rarely serious. He was brutally honest. Whatever came out of his mouth, he had no filter whatsoever whether he was being funny or at times serious. He was eloquent. He could talk to the president of the United States and talk to a homeless person and get to everybody’s level and in between.”

“Most of the time, he just liked to make people laugh,” she continued. “It was hard to get serious time with him.”

Agapito “Pete” Leal took a moment to pose with a statue outside Mary Pickford is D’Place, a movie theater in Cathedral City, California, where he watched his last film, “Moving On”. (Courtesy photo)

Leal never had children of his own, so his nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews became his surrogate sons and daughters, who he showered in love and kindness.

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“We were all his children,” Garcia said.

That love and kindness was evident even at the end of his life. Garcia recalled the last phone call she had with her uncle two weeks before his death.

“He was just saying how happy he was that I had so many grandkids and how beautiful they were,” Garcia said. “He sounded, for lack of a better word, resigned to whatever God had in store for him because he wasn’t feeling well. Nevertheless, he never liked to portray himself as being sickly or not feeling well, but I could tell.”

Leal’s husband, Richard Babick, reflected on the short time they were able to spend together. The two men met in 2018 at a yearly event held in Florida called “Celebration of Friends”.

“As soon as I got there, I looked around at who was there — a lot of the same old faces — and I saw Pete right away and thought, ‘I want to talk to that guy,’” Babick recalled. “Being Pete, he was running around dancing and talking to everybody — sort of like a puppy dog.”

Agapito “Pete” Leal and his husband, Richard Babick, were married in January 2019. (Courtesy photo)

The two spent the weekend together, and became inseparable. The two men were married in January the following year.

“He had a great aura,” Baick said. “There was something about him that had a light that people were drawn to — anywhere. We’d go into a restaurant and babies would turn around in their highchairs and stare at him from across the room. Little kids, toddlers would come up to him with arms open. The love of a child is a pure kind of love, and there was something about him that everyone was drawn to.”

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Babick said that despite their short time together, Leal left a lasting impact on him like he had for so many others.

“Unconditional love, he was always expressing it,” Babick said when asked what he would remember most about his late husband. “It was constant. We always held hands. We always had interlocking arms when we walked. There was no pretense to any of that. It was from the bottom of his heart, always. Just like the love he shared with people he knew casually or socially, our love was very sincere and very strong.”


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