July 27th, 2012
12:12 PM ET
Actress Lupe Ontiveros, who co-starred in the hit films "Selena" and "As Good As It Gets," has died of liver cancer, her publicists said Friday. She was 69.
Ontiveros passed away Thursday night. Before her death she had received phone calls from actors all over Hollywood as well as political figures, including Edward James Olmos and Hilda Solis, said Roy Cosme of Arcos Communications.
TMZ reports that Ontiveros' "Selena" co-star Jacob Vargas was at her bedside when she passed. He told CNN in a statement that Ontiveros was diagnosed with liver cancer in January of this year, but kept it quiet from friends and family.
At the time of her passing, Vargas said, "she was surrounded by many friends and family." He called the 69-year-old star "an amazing person. A force of nature. Always smiling and ready to pull you out on the dance floor. She will be dearly missed.”
The Mexican-American actress built her career playing domestic workers, and in a 2009 interview with NPR said she had appeared as a maid more than 150 times in roles on shows like "Who's the Boss." Her near-constant gigs made her one of the most recognizable Latina actresses in Hollywood.
In an interview with CNN in 2009, Ontiveros said her repeated casting as a housekeeper was "upsetting."
"It's upsetting to any culture when that is the only projection you have of that culture," she told Soledad O'Brien. "You're pigeon-holed, stereotyped. That means we don't like you. We forget that this country was founded by immigrants."
One of her more recognizable roles came later in life when she played Yolanda Saldivar, the woman convicted of killing Tejano superstar Selena in the 1997 blockbuster movie of the singer's life.
Jennifer Lopez, who starred in "Selena" as the titular superstar, said she's "tremendously saddened by the news of Lupe's passing! I've enjoyed her work throughout the years. She was a great actress and working with her in 'Selena' was an unforgettable experience. She will truly be missed."
Actress Eva Longoria has offered similar condolences, telling CNN in a statement that she's "deeply saddened at the news of my dear friend Lupe Ontiveros' passing. She was more than a colleague to me, she was my family. My heart is with your family Lupe.”
The National Hispanic Media Coalition praised Ontiveros as a "trailblazer" in a statement Friday.
"She worked tirelessly to perfect her craft and open doors for countless Latinos along the way," said NHMC President Alex Nogales. "Hollywood never gave her the lead role, but in our hearts she will be remembered as our leading lady."
Ontiveros was a founding member of The Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles, according to the NHMC.
Actor Luis Guzman tweeted Friday, "R.I.P. Lupe Ontiveros thank you for all your work and being a Pioneer."
Cosme, who serves on the board of the Latino Commission on AIDS, described Ontiveros as a community activist as much as a movie star, and a major voice in the Latino community's ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. In the past, Ontiveros was a co-host of the Latino Commission on AIDS' fundraiser.
Ontiveros' family said in a statement, "Our mother, Guadalupe 'Lupe' Ontiveros ... was a tireless advocate for many causes, which included G.L.A.D. (Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc.), United Farm Workers, A.A.R.P., The Latino Commission on A.I.D.S. and the Latino Theatre Company in Los Angeles ... All donations can be made in her name to her two favorite causes, G.L.A.D. (Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc.) and the L.A.T.C. (Los Angeles Theatre Center)."
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