Lupe Ontiveros, the Mexican American actress who appeared in "Selena" with Jennifer Lopez and who was one of the original cast members of the musical play "Zoot Suit," has died. She was 69.
Ontiveros' son, Elias, said his mother died July 26 at 10:20 p.m. at a Los Angeles area hospital after battling liver cancer for several months.
Family and friends said the award-winning actress remained active in her life, even in recent weeks as she stepped out to social gatherings. In recent days her health declined even after going through several medical procedures, including chemotherapy.
"She didn't tell me until the night we saw a play recently," said actor Gabriel Romero, a longtime friend. "She told me the diagnosis was around January or February. It was so heartbreaking."
News of Ontiveros' declining health began circulating on several social media outlets, including Facebook, on Thursday as friends and fans responded with postings to wish her well.
Ontiveros, born in El Paso, Texas, as Guadalupe Moreno, left a major impression on movie-goers in 1997 after portraying Yolanda Saldivar, the convicted murderer of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. But the actress, who was once limited to portraying maids, was proud of her performance in the Gregory Nava film that helped launch Lopez's career, but also put Ontiveros in a bigger spotlight as more roles came her way.
"I've made characters notable, humorous and human," Ontiveros said in an interview about Latinos in Hollywood. "I think that has been the formula to survival."
The actress, a former social worker, left her mark in other movies as well such as Nava's 1983 film, "El Norte," in which she portrayed an undocumented seamstress. The independent film "Chuck & Buck" in 2000 raised her profile again for her portrayal of a theater manager who becomes friends with the film's troubled main character.
One of Ontiveros' biggest achievements was playing the fictional mother Carmen Garcia in "Real Women Have Curves," which received standing ovations for her performance in 2002 when the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film allowed her to break out even more.
No stranger to television, Ontiveros also has a long list of credits for appearances on shows such as "Hill Street Blues," "Ressurrection Blvd.," and "King of the Hill."
In recent years Ontiveros had a recurring role on "Desperate Houswives" as Juanita Solis, Gabrielle's mother-in-law. The role earned her an Emmy nomination for best guest actress in a comedy series. Earlier this year she appeared on the now-cancelled series "Rob," playing the grandmother on the CBS comedy featuring Rob Schneider.
In the theater world, during the late 1970s, Ontiveros was cast as Dolores in Luis Valdez's play, "Zoot Suit." She also played the part when it went to Broadway, a first for a Mexican American theatrical production. Additionally, she also participated in the film version in 1981 along with many other actors who were staring out in their careers including Edward James Olmos, Tyne Daly and Tony Plana.
A founding member of the Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles, Ontiveros was scheduled to be honored by the organization's gala on Aug. 11 for being an advocate for women's and educational issues.
Last month Ontiveros attended the musical play "Trio Los Machos" at Casa 0101 in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles where she was introduced to the audience on opening night by playwright Josefina Lopez who also wrote "Real Women Have Curves."
During her time in the hospital recently, family and friends throughout the country flew to Los Angeles to see Ontiveros. People from the worlds of arts to politics visited the actress to show their support.
Despite playing many maids through the years, Ontiveros said in an earlier interview that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"Some maids are challenging characters. I love maids," Ontiveros said. "Playing them also pays my bills and adds to my pension and medical plans. If I sit around and don't work, it's my loss."
Ontiveros is survived by her husband, Elias Ontiveros Jr., sons Nicolas, 46; Alejandro, 39 and Elias, 37. Funeral services are pending.