Award-winning actress Elizabeth Peña has passed away aged 55.
The star – who recently had a guest role on ABC’s Modern Family as the mother of Sofia Vergara – died of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, her manager Gina Rugolo confirmed.
No other details were immediately provided, however, her nephew Mario-Francisco Robles wrote an obituary in the Latino Review about his aunt’s career, which has spanned four decades.
Peña in 2013 appeared on two episodes of Modern Family as Pilar, the Colombian mother of Vergara’s popular character Gloria Pritchett.
She also appeared on such TV shows as L.A. Law, Dream On and Resurrection Blvd. and directed a 2002 episode of the Showtime series Resurrection Blvd that was set in East Los Angeles.
The New Jersey native also had roles in films such as Rush Hour, Jacob’s Ladder, Lone Star, Blue Steel and Free Willy 2.
Peña also provided her voice to The Incredibles, the Justice League cartoon series and American Dad.
She recently played the mother of the title character on the El Rey Network drama Matador.
The talented actress also was a founding member of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
Peña was born on September 23, 1959 in New Jersey and was raised by her Cuban immigrant parents in Cuba and later New York.
She had a memorable role in the 1987 biopic La Bamba about the life and career of Chicano rock-n-roll singer Ritchie Valens who was portrayed by Lou Diamond Philips.
Peña played Valens’ ex-girlfriend Rosie who later takes up with his abusive brother Bob and becomes pregnant with his child.
Critics praised her 1996 film Lone Star written and directed by John Sayles, 64, who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the border drama.
Peña was featured in an ensemble cast that also included Matthew McConaughey, Chris Cooper and Kris Kristofferson.
The film was set on the Texas-Mexican border and Peña worked hard on her portrayal of a schoolteacher, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
‘In the United States, all Spanish-speaking people are lumped into one category,’ she was quoted telling the Dallas Morning News in 1996.
‘But we’re all so different. Argentinians are completely different from Mexicans. Mexicans are completely different from Cubans. Cubans are completely different from people from Paraguay and Uruguay,’ she added.
The actress absorbed life on both sides of the border and even recorded people to get the proper inflection.
‘I crossed the border a whole bunch to collect a lot of history. I would sit for hours looking at the women, how they dressed. I talked to people. I hung out. I shopped at the stores to see what kind of clothing was there and what food was eaten,’ she said.
Peña was honoured with an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female for her portrayal of Pilar in the film.
The actress over her long film and television career also won four ALMA Awards, which are given to American Latino artists for promoting fair and accurate portrayals of Latinos in the media.
She was remembered via social media by admiring Hollywood stars.
‘My heart is broken!!! My prayers are with you and your family. We will miss you #ElizabethPena,’ actress Zoe Saldana, 36, posted on Twitter.
Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, 39, also remembered Pena and her contributions.
Source: Daily Mail