Actress and producer Lupe Ontiveros unexpectedly passed away at age 69, Thursday evening in Los Angeles, after losing her battle with liver cancer.
“The great actress and friend to all who love from the heart and shoot from the hip, Lupe Ontiveros, passed away in her son Nicholas’ arms tonight,” wrote actor Esai Morales in his Facebook page. “I was there in a crowded hospital room earlier and said my goodbye and a little while later as we were in a nearby restaurant we heard the sad news that she left us and was pain free and finally at peace. She was surrounded by her beloved yet devastated family.”
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Lupe Ontiveros’ legacy and the role of Latinos in Hollywood
Close friend Rick Najera says the actress was in fact surrounded by family and friends, including actors Esai Morales and Edward James Olmos, when she died at a hospital in Whittier, Calif., a suburb southeast of Los Angeles.
Ontiveros was born Guadalupe Moreno in El Paso, Texas from Mexican immigrants who overcame lack of formal education to become local entrepreneurs. She attended Texas Woman’s University where she studied social work and psychology. After graduating, Ontiveros relocated to Los Angeles where she worked as a social worker for over 15 years.
Ontiveros decided to start a career in acting later in life after being laid off and browsing the classifieds for a new job. One in particular requesting extras for movies and TV shows caught her eye, and she tried her luck. Her official debut as an actress came at a Latino community theater in Los Angeles a few years later. She was then cast as Dolores in Zoot Suit, a historic play by Luis Valdez that became the first Mexican American theatrical production to ever play on Broadway. Ontiveros continued with the role in the 1982 movie version of the play.
Ontiveros was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards for her role in Chuck & Buck, one of the few opportunities in her career where she was not asked to portray a stereotypical Latino character.
In fact, in an interview with the New York Times in 2002, Ontiveros said she’d probably played a maid at least 150 times during her acting career.
”It’s their continued perspective of who we are,” Ontiveros said then about how Hollywood views Hispanics. ”They don’t know we’re very much a part of this country and that we make up every part of this country.”
She added, ”I’m proud to represent those hands that labor in this country. I’ve given every maid I’ve ever portrayed soul and heart.”
In 2009, she told NPR she was grateful to the maid roles that had helped her increase her popularity. “You’ve got maids and you’ve got maids. You got maids that have longevity beyond what you ever conceived of in your wildest dreams.”
Ontiveros received a Special Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival for her role in the film Real Women Have Curves, where she shared the screen with Ugly Betty‘s America Ferrera. She received an Emmy nomination as well for her role in the hit TV show Desperate Housewives.
Ontiveros, known also for roles like Rosalita in The Goonies and Yolanda Saldivar in Selena, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers in 2010. She is also remembered as a founding member of the Latino Theater Company and an advocate for Latino rights. She worked with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund promoting higher education opportunities for Hispanics and was scheduled to be honored next month for her life-long commitment to the Latino community, at the Sixth Annual Los Angeles Theater Center Gala, August 11.
Reactions in social media
“She will be severely missed. My eyes hurt. She was a singular talent who cannot be replaced. Lupe was love…”
— Facebook page of Esai Morales
“What a smile. What love. It can only be Lupe. We miss you, so so much already. And always will. We love you Lupe.”
— Facebook page of “Los Americans”
R.I.P. Lupe Ontiveros thank you for all your work and being a Pioneer
— Luis Guzman (@IamLuisGuzman) July 27, 2012
Celebrating the life of Lupe Ontiveros. When I first met her she made me feel like family. Hilarious, loving, talented twitter.com/TheDannyPino/s…
— Danny Pino (@TheDannyPino) July 27, 2012
My friend Lupe Ontiveros just passed away. May you rest in peace. Thank you for your great contribution to film and TV. You will be missed.
— Jacob Vargas (@TheJacobVargas) July 27, 2012
A moment of remembrance for the brave, talented, fiery, incomparably magnetic Lupe Ontiveros. Love to a world who lost a shining soul today.
— BrianNormoyle (@BrianNormoyle) July 27, 2012
Lupe Ontiveros RIP, thank you for the gift of you that was shared by many!
— Jon Seda (@JonSeda) July 27, 2012
What has been your favorite Lupe Ontivero’s acting role?
Associated Press contributed to this report