Jimmy Smits is an American actor best known for his long-running roles on the television series L.A. Law, as Richard Dysart's youngest uptight law partner, Victor Sifuentes (1986-1991); as Dennis Franz's second partner, Det. Bobby Simone, in NYPD Blue (1994-1998); as well as his role on The West Wing as congressman and presidential candidate Matt Santos.
Smits was born in New York City. His father, Cornelis Smits, was a Surinamese immigrant from Dutch Guiana who managed a silk-screening factory. His mother, Emilina, was a Puerto Rican who worked as a nurse. He has a sister, Diana.
He grew up in a devoutly Catholic family in a working-class neighbourhood and spent time in Puerto Rico during his childhood.
Smits earned a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College in 1980 and an MFA from Cornell University in 1982.
Though born in New York, Smits has deep Puerto Rican roots and frequently visits the island. He was arrested for his participation in protests against U.S. Navy bombing practices in the Puerto Rican offshore island of Vieques.
Smits has received various nominations for Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, winning an Emmy in 1990 and a Golden Globe in 1996.
A wider audience became aware of Smits for his appearance as Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan who becomes Princess Leia's adoptive father, in the Star Wars films Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
He also starred in the multigenerational story of a Chicano family in My Family/Mi Familia in 1995. Smits also played the Conky Repairman on Pee-wee's Playhouse as one of the show's memorable characters, and in one of his earliest roles.
His first screen role was that of Eddie Rivera in the series premiere of Miami Vice, in 1984. In the episode, he was Sonny Crockett's original partner, only to be shortly killed off in a sting gone wrong.
Smits played the role of Congressman Matt Santos of Houston, Texas in the final two seasons of the American television drama The West Wing.
The series ended with Santos' inauguration as President of the United States after winning the presidential election. He defeated moderate Republican Senator Arnold Vinick of California (played by Alan Alda).
The producers of the series reported that they had not decided early on who would win, and in fact reported to The New York Times that until co-star John Spencer's death, they had planned on electing Vinick.
Smits was married to Barbara Smits from 1981 until their divorce in 1987. They have two children, Taina (born in 1973) and Joaquin (born in 1983).
Since 1986, Smits has been in a relationship with actress Wanda De Jesus. They reside in Los Angeles.
Smits helped found the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts to advance the presence of Latinos in the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries.