Elizabeth Peña, known for her roles in La Bamba and Lone Star, as well as for playing the mother of Sofia Vergara's character on Modern Family, died yesterday in LA. The 55-year-old's death followed a brief illness, her manager said without elaboration. At the Washington Post, Soraya Nadia McDonald notes that "though rarely a leading lady, [Peña] brought a certain magnetism to all of her roles" and "developed a penchant for oozing an understated, intelligent sensuality with ease." She was a Latina groundbreaker as well: CNN points out that Peña was only the fourth Latina to join the Directors Guild of America.
Peña, who was born in New Jersey but lived in Cuba for a while as a child, was a founding member of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors as well, the Los Angeles Times reports. She also appeared regularly on Matador, a crime drama airing on the El Rey TV network, and had done voice work, including the role of Mirage in Pixar's The Incredibles. Tweeted RogerEbert.com EIC Matt Zoller Seitz, "News of Elizabeth Pena's death hits particularly hard, for some reason, maybe because she was consistently outstanding in everything." (Read more celebrity death stories.)