Elizabeth Peña, who was enjoying a bit of a career renaissance with her TV roles as Maritza Sandoval on El Rey Network‘s “Matador” and as Sofia Vergara’s mother, Pilar, on “Modern Family,” died in Los Angeles at the age of 55.
Peña’s nephew, Mario-Francisco Robles, broke the news yesterday on the website Latino Review, where he shared personal memories of his “Ñaña” in addition to a touching obituary on the Cuban-American actress.
Peña was born in Elizabeth, N.J., and graduated from the High School of Performing Arts in New York and landed her first movie role in 1979′s “El Super.” She eventually established a solid film career in the 1980s, most notably appearing as Ritchie Valens’ sister-in-law Rosie Morales in the 1987 biopic “La Bamba.”
Other film credits include “*batteries not included,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and a career-making turn in the 1990 thriller “Jacob’s Ladder.”
At a time when leading roles for Hispanic actresses were still few and far between, Peña paved the way for sitcoms like “Ugly Betty” and “Jane the Virgin” when she was cast as the protagonist in the short-lived 1987-1988 ABC series “I Married Dora,” which centered on a green-card marriage.
According to “The Hollywood Reporter,” Peña died of natural causes following a brief illness. No further details are available at this time.
by Sarene Leeds