Dionisio Choperena, 51; Marin County Shepherd Cast in Cellphone Ads

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Dionisio Choperena, 51, who rose from lowly shepherd to fame when he was cast in TV commercials making cellphone calls among his flock, died Sept. 12 of cancer at home in Petaluma, Calif.

Choperena was cast in 2000 when an agent arrived in rural Marin County looking for a “rancher type” comfortable with a flock of sheep, and found Choperena drinking beer at the William Tell House in Tomales.

The ads featured Choperena using an AT&T; cellphone to summon a New York taxi, talk to relatives and trade stocks, surrounded by a flock of sheep. He was so natural in the role that the camera crew called him “one-take Dio,” his wife, Kathy, said.

Choperena was born Nov. 17, 1954, in Goizueta in the Basque region of Spain. He left school at 13 to tend sheep for his father. At 17, he immigrated to the United States to work at a Wyoming sheep ranch. He later traveled to western Marin County to help a sheepherding brother who had broken a leg. He was offered a permanent job and eventually ran his own ranch.


Choperena became a celebrity in his hometown in Spain, where he visited each year with tapes of the advertisements.