An actor who took her stereotype casting in stride, Lupe Ontiveros, best known for her role in Gregory Nava’s 1997 biopic Selena, dies at 69. The Mexican-American actor lost her battle with cancer on Thursday, July 26th as reported by her family and close friends. She is also remembered for her unforgettable role in the blockbuster The Goonies in 1985. And, in Desperate Housewives, she was nominated for an Emmy for her hilarious role as Gabby’s (Eva Longoria) meddling mother-in-law “Mama Solis.”Ontiveros was an accomplished actor on television, stage and film, with such credits as in the Oscar-winning As Good As It Gets with Jack Nickolson, where she stole the scene with her small role playing the Greg Kinnear’s maid… was so good, her scene was used in the film’s movie trailer.
Ontiveros loved her maid roles, once saying, “You’ve got maids, and you’ve got maids.” And, she should know she played than 150 maids in her prolific career. No matter how small or large her roles, Lupe Ontiveros brought humanity to every character she portrayed. She was proud to be the maid, mother, grandmother, and all around punch line to comedians as she was in the recently cancelled CBS Rob, where she played “Abuelita” to Rob Schnieder’s Mexican’s wife’s family.
Ontiveros started her career in the 1970’s with a role in Charlie’s Angels, playing none other than a maid… and has worked consistently on television throughout her four decade career appearing on shows such as, Common Law, and many more. The role that brought her talent to Hollywood’s attention was the role of the mom in Luis Valdez’s play Zoot Suit. One of her last role was co-starring in Dennis Leoni’s web series, Los Americans, where she co-starred with Esai Morales and he posted on social media:
“God bless and welcome the soul of our great and talented Lupe Ontiveros. She brought tons of humanity to all of the roles she personified. A unique and singular person who will live dearly through the wonderful work she shared with us. I miss her and can’t quite believe the indomitable one has left us so soon. I love you, Lupe. What will we do without you…?”
She was hilarious in the film Our Family Wedding, where as the shocked grandmother to America Ferrara faints as she’s introduced to her granddaughter’s black fiancé. The camera loved her and she brought such humor and joy to our hearts. She was terrific in Miguel Arteta’s Chuck and Buck.She starred in Josefina Lopez’ award-winning, Real Women Have Curves, where she helped bring out the best of America Ferrara, the young star’s first feature role. When it came to Latino-themed independent films, Lupe Ontiveros rarely turned a role down. She was always there using her celebrity status to help Latino filmmakers… Jose Luis Valenzuela’sLuminarias where she co-starred with Evelina Fernandez, Dyana Ortelli and many other Latinas, and when Dennis Leoni came calling for his web series Los Americans (online shows) she jumped on board like she always did.
Lupe appeared in many other memorable film and television projects including Fame (TV series in 1986), Born in East L.A. (1987 where she worked with Cheech Marin), Who’s The Boss (1988), Blood In, Blood Out (1993 iconic film) and in Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas‘s critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated 1983 El Norte.
A consummate professional, when recently she pulled out of a film project, her closest friends were alarmed… because Lupe was a woman of her word and no matter how large or small the project, she worked it as if it was a Steven Spielberg blockbuster.
Although, the beautiful and talented, Ontiveros made a career out of playing maids, she worked very hard and was successful in changing the image of Latinas on film and leaves a legacy for all the young Latino stars to follow. As one fan on social media said, “They broke the mold when Lupe was created.”
Lupe Ontiveros opened the door wide open for many Latinas to walk through, only this time, the “Welcome, Latinas” sign is hanging over the Hollywood door. She taught us that no role is too small or too above or beneath us to portray if we can infuse it with humanity and respect.
And, finally, to quote Dennis Leoni’s social media post: “The world has lost a treasure… Lupe Ontiveros passed away this evening. She was irrepressible, irreducible, irrefragable and irreplaceable. She was a singular talent and a unique personality, the type that only comes along once in an eon. She was one of a kind and I won’t see the likes of her again in my lifetime. I will miss her impish smile, her feisty nature and her generous heart. Her body may be gone, but her spirit lives on in all of us who knew her and those she touched with her talent and her lifeforce.
Goodnight, Lupe… we love you.” And, we will never forget you.
Elia Esparza is a leading expert in communications and journalism targeting the burgeoning Hispanic market and has produced and written dozens of articles. President and CEO of Always Evolving PR and a Communications Specialist, Elia, incorporates her 18 years experience in the areas of entertainment and education public relations, and marketing. promotions, market research and translations (Eng/Span).