Trini Lopez, an actor and singer-guitarist who co-starred The Dirty Dozen actor and had hits with “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree” — which was referenced in a popular Seinfeld episode — died today in Palm Springs. He was 83. Palm Springs Life magazine reported the news but didn’t give a cause of death. A source tells Deadline it was from COVID-19.
Lopez already was a recording star when he was cast as Pedro Jiminez — aka Number 10 — in The Dirty Dozen, the star-studded 1967 World War II drama directed by Robert Aldrich. It followed the story of a rebellious U.S. Army Major (Lee Marvin) who is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers. Its ensemble cast includes Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland.
Lopez also appeared in the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin romp Marriage on the Rocks (1965), The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966), The Phynx (1970) and played the lead in Antonio (1973). He also guested on such series as Adam-12 and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries; guest-hosted Hullabaloo a few times; appeared on several game and talk shows and variety specials; and sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Andy Williams Show and several others.
Born Trinidad Lopez to Mexican immigrant parents on May 15, 1937, in Dallas, he was given his big break by Sinatra, who signed the young singer to a long-term deal on his Reprise Records. The Warner Bros imprint would release all of Lopez’s albums in the 1960s.
Lopez broke out as a singer with a version of Pete Seeger and Lee Hays’ “If I Had a Hammer,” which spent three weeks at No. 3 on the Billboard 100 in summer 1963. It was culled from the LP Trini Lopez at PJ’s, which went gold and spent 101 weeks on the Billboard album chart. The disc spent six weeks at No. 2, thwarted by Andy Williams’ Days of Wine and Roses and the debut by a 12-year-old prodigy known as Little Stevie Wonder.
The song and album would be the pinnacle of Lopez’s recording career, but he continued to chart albums into the late ’60s — three including his 1963 follow-up More Trini Lopez at PJ’s. would make the top 20 — and had lesser pop hits with “Kansas City” in 1963 and “Lemon Tree” two years later. The latter song became a popular punchline in a Season 2 episode of NBC’s Seinfeld. In “The Phone Message,” when George (Jason Alexander) and Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) take unusual measures to retrieve the cassette recording of an angry phone message George left for a potential girlfriend, their “signal” from one to the other that she was about to bust them would be singing a line from “Lemon Tree.”
“Peter, Paul and Mary,” George says when Jerry suggests it. “No, Trini Lopez,” Jerry corrects.
Lopez is the subject of a forthcoming documentary titled My Name Is Lopez, which includes interviews with the likes of his Dirty Dozen co-star Brown, Dionne Warwick, Tony Orlando and ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. Its producers are P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes; the latter posted news of Lopez’s death on social media today: