Mr. Piņero, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up on the Lower East Side, started to write for the theater while serving time at the Ossining Correctional Facility (Sing Sing) for armed robbery. The result was ''Short Eyes,'' a searing portrayal of violent prison life, which started at the Theater of the Riverside Church, was transferred to the Public Theater by Joseph Papp, and then ran at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center. ''Short Eyes,'' which won an Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as best American play in 1974, was later made into a film with a screenplay by Mr. Piņero under the direction of Robert Young.
''Miguel Piņero was the first Puerto Rican to really break through and be accepted as a major writer for the stage,'' Mr. Papp said. ''He was an extraordinarily original talent, and he became a mentor and a hero for people like Reinaldo Povod, who wrote 'Cuba and His Teddy Bear.' The fact that Miguel was successful made it possible for Ray to write. All over the Lower East Side, Miguel was considered someone who had broken through. But in addition to being a symbol, he was a first-class playwright.''
Mr. Piņero's other works for the theater included ''Straight From the Ghetto,'' ''Eulogy for a Small-Time Thief,'' ''The Sun Always Shines for the Cool'' and ''A Midnight Moon at the Greasy Spoon.'' His Art Imitated His Life
His themes revolved around life on the mean streets he knew best, populated by drug addicts and con men, pimps and prostitutes. Drugs and crime were a persistent theme as well in Mr. Piņero's own life; he was arrested several times on drug and robbery charges.
Mr. Piņero, who also began
performing while in prison, played the role of a
Spanish-speaking drug dealer in the film ''Fort
Apache, the Bronx,'' and appeared in
''Breathless,'' ''Alphabet City,'' ''Exposed,''
''Deal of the Century,'' ''Times Square,''
''Streets of L.A.'' and ''Pick-Up Artist,''
among other movies. His television appearances
included roles in ''Baretta,'' ''Kojak'' and
''Miami Vice.'' A published poet, Mr. Piņero was
one of the founders of the so-called Nuyorican
movement, a group of Puerto Rican New York
poets, and he edited an anthology of their work
called ''Nuyorican Poetry.'' At the time of his
death, he was working on a play for the Public
Theater called ''Every Form of Refuge Has Its
Price,'' which was set in the intensive-care
unit of a hospital.