Héctor Elizondo was born on December 22, 1936 in New York, New York, U.S.A., the son of Carmen Medina Reyes, from Puerto Rico, and Martín Echevarría Elizondo, who is from the Basque region of Spain.
At a young age, he demonstrated a talent in sports and music. He sang for the Frank Murray Boys' Choir when he was 10 years old. He later enrolled in the High School of the Performing Arts. In 1954, he enrolled in City College of New York, with the intention of becoming a history teacher. During his freshman year he became a father and dropped out of college, going to work full-time in order to support his family. Later, he was divorced and gained full custody of his son, Rodd.
From 1962 to 1963, he studied dance at the Ballet Arts Company at Carnegie Hall and in 1963 he landed parts in two off-Broadway shows: Kill the One-Eyed Man and The Great White Hope. His first major success came when he played "God" in guise of a Puerto Rican steam room attendant in the Bruce Jay Friedman play Steambath, for which he won an Obie Award for his performance. Many of his roles involve playing a friend or sympathizer to the lead character.
In 1974, he played against type as ex-mafioso-turned-subway hijacker "Mr. Grey" in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The next year, he starred as a Puerto Rican widower on the CBS television series, "Popi," which aired during the 1975-1976 television season. The short-lived series, which ran for eleven episodes, was one of the first American network television series to feature a Latino theme and cast.
In the 1980s, he befriended actor-writer-director-producer Garry Marshall; Marshall was impressed with his talent and it was to become a lifelong friendship, which would bring benefits for both. Their first movie together was Young Doctors in Love. In some of the movies in which Elizondo appeared, he went uncredited and he would not have minded staying that way for the movie Pretty Woman; however, it was Marshall who insisted on crediting him. His role in Pretty Woman only lasted 10 minutes, but it led to his receiving a Golden Globe nomination. In all, he has participated in over 80 movies and 18 of them have been Marshall's, including Runaway Bride (which incidentally reunited him with Pretty Woman co-stars Richard Gere and Julia Roberts).
In 2001, he portrayed security head Joe in the movie The Princess Diaries, a role he reprised in the 2004 sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. He is probably best known to the television audience as Dr. Phillip Watters on the CBS television series "Chicago Hope" created by well known television creator David E. Kelley. He has won both an Emmy and ALMA Award and was nominated for a Satellite Award and several SAG Awards for playing this role. He is one of only two people to remain on the show for its entire run, the other being Adam Arkin.
He also played "Pancho Duque" in the CBS television series "Cane." On April 30, 2008, it was announced by USA Network that Elizondo would become Adrian Monk's new therapist, Dr. Neven Bell, on the award-winning series "Monk." He replaced actor Stanley Kamel, who died suddenly on April 8, 2008.
Most recently, he played the father of Dr. Callie Torres (played by Sara Ramírez) in the ABC series "Grey's Anatomy" and will appear in the upcoming movie New Year's Eve, directed by (natch) Garry Marshall.
The movies in which Héctor Elizondo has worked with Garry Marshall include, as of this writing, Young Doctors in Love (1982), The Flamingo Kid (1984), Nothing in Common (1986), Overboard (1987), Beaches (1988), Pretty Woman (1990), Frankie and Johnny (1991), Exit to Eden (1994), Dear God (1996), The Other Sister (1999), Runaway Bride (1999), The Princess Diaries (2001), Raising Helen (2004), The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), Georgia Rule (2007), Valentine's Day (2010) and New Year's Eve (scheduled for release in 2011).