LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Danny Villanueva, who was one of the NFL's first Latino kickers and a pioneer of Spanish-language television, has died. He was 77.
Family members and officials at New Mexico State University, where Villanueva was a member of the athletic hall of fame, confirmed that he died Thursday after suffering a stroke earlier this week.
Born to migrant missionary workers in eastern New Mexico, Villanueva went on to attend New Mexico State on a football scholarship. After graduating in 1961, he played for the Los Angeles Rams, where he was nicknamed "El Kickador." Bullfighting music was played whenever he walked onto the field.
Villanueva also played with the Dallas Cowboys. His last game ended up being the championship against Green Bay at Lambeau Field in 1967. He and his teammates suffered through the brutally cold temperatures that day in Wisconsin.
Villanueva started his broadcasting career with KNBC in Los Angeles and became the president and general manager of KMEX. He was a part-owner in a Spanish-language chain that would later become Univision.
Officials at New Mexico State said Villanueva leaves behind a lifetime of successes as well as a legacy of giving. Villanueva, who lived in Southern California, was a longtime booster for his alma mater, having donated several million dollars to the university.
"Danny Villanueva was an outstanding Aggie, a great football player and a generous philanthropist," university President Garrey Carruthers said. "He came from a small town in New Mexico and rose to become a very successful entrepreneur in both television and real estate."
Villanueva co-founded the investment firm Bastion Capital in 1992 and co-founded Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners, an investment firm aimed at helping family businesses.
In 1991, he established the Danny Villanueva Scholarship Endowment to recognize New Mexico State students who excel in leadership and community involvement. The endowment has paid for more than 40 scholarships.
In 1999, New Mexico State awarded Villanueva an honorary doctorate.
He also was a member of the National Hispanic Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Sports Foundation for Education Inc.'s National Hispanic Hall Of Fame.
University Athletic Director Mario Moccia called Villanueva a true legend.
Cheryl Harrelson, president of the New Mexico State University Foundation, said Villanueva believed that everyone deserved an education.
"Danny will live on forever in our hearts, and throughout our campus," she said. "We are a better university because of him, and that will never be forgotten."