Lupe Ontiveros, a versatile actress from El Paso who came to Hollywood and once estimated she had a played a maid 150 times on stage or screen, died Thursday night of cancer in Whittier. "Last night the Latino Theater Company lost one of its founding members, the incredible Lupe Ontiveros," the downtown company announced today on Facebook. "We are deeply sadden [sic] by this loss, and feel blessed to have lived in her light and spirit for as long as we did. She was a fierce, trailblazing artist, activist, philanthropist and cultural treasure. Que viva la Lupe Ontiveros!"
Ontiveros, a social worker when she first came to Los Angeles, broke into the pro ranks — as a maid — in an episode of "Charlie's Angels" on TV in 1976, followed by an episode of "Alice." She went on to play the seamstress Nacha in "El Norte," the mother of America Ferrera's character in "Real Women Have Curves," and the killer of Selena Quintanilla-Perez in "Selena." She was notably part of the Los Angeles premiere of "Zoot Suit" and in the later production on Broadway, as well as the film. "I met her in 1978 when I was cast in my very first theatrical production, 'Zoot Suit,' the hit play by Luis Valdez," writes Bel Hernandez Castillo, the founder of Latin Heat. "It's where a group of us met Lupe for the first time and bonded for a lifetime of friendship. Yesterday the life, and the heart of that group of actors came to an end, with much of the former cast members, which met 34 years ago, there to say goodbye to her."
Ontiveros navigated a pretty full run through the episodic TV series' of the past few decades, in shows such as "Hill Street Blues," "Tales From the Crypt," "Red Shoe Diaries" and "Weeds." Most recently she was semi-regular on "Desperate Housewives" as Mama Solis. She was nominated for an Emmy for 'Housewives,' and an Independent Spirit Award for "Chuck and Buck."
She's also being remembered as a cultural symbol and as an activist. County labor chief Maria Elena Durazo called Ontiveros in a statement Friday “a tireless activist for promoting significant roles for Latinos in Hollywood.”
Here's a statement from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:
Today, Los Angeles mourns the loss of Lupe Ontiveros, one of the most prolific Mexican American actresses of our time. It is with deep sadness yet much pride that we reflect upon a woman whose immense contributions opened the door for Latinos and touched so many through her artistic talent.
As an Emmy nominated actress, Lupe was a stalwart in Latino cinema within the last 30 years. Her career included Broadway, a leading role in an Oscar-nominated film and appearances in prime-time television shows. Her iconic roles and larger than life personality helped to blaze a trail, specifically for Latina actresses, and nobly represented working-class characters. As a founding member of the downtown Latino Theater Company, her artistic contributions will continue to enrich the lives of Angelenos.
In addition to her legendary performances, Lupe was a dedicated activist for domestic violence, AIDS awareness and prevention and a strong advocate for health and higher education.
My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time.
Artist Lalo Alcaraz posted a personal tribute at his Pocho.com. "Always ready to crack an off-color joke, Lupe was genial and hilarious and also brutally honest about her time in Hollywood....To me she was a super lady, and the most famous resident of Pico Rivera. We will miss her mischievous laugh and smile."
Her IMDB page, with more than 100 acting credits.