And now here’s a punch of sadness to the core of my chilhood’s heart. Elizabeth Peña, whose career lasted for over 30 years, died in Los Angeles yesterday. She was only 55. Elizabeth’s manager tells The L.A. Times that she died of natural causes after a brief illness.
Elizabeth was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (“Oh shit, just like your name!” is probably the line that touched her ears the most) and two years after she graduated from New York’s High School of Performing Arts, she made her movie debut in a film called El Super. She pretty much never stopped working after that. She was Ritchie Valens’ sister-in-law in La Bamba, Richard Dreyfuss’ side piece in Down and Out In Beverly Hills, Marisa the pregnant mom in Batteries Not Included, Jezzie in Jacob’s Ladder and Consuelo in VIBES! She’s definitely getting the VIP treatment at the gates of Heaven as everybody involved in Vibes should. In 1997, she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress for John Sayles’ Lone Star.
Her other movie roles include Rush Hour, The Waterdance, Free Willy 2 (hey, a check is a check!), Tortilla Soup, The Incredibles and Transamerica. On TV, she was Sofia Vergara’s mother on Modern Family and she recently finished the first season of Matador for the El Rey Network. She was also a founding member of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
She’s survived by her husband, mother, sister and two teenage children.
Elizabeth Peña is very memorable to me, because when I was a kid, I watched every episode of the first and only season of I Married Dora. Elizabeth played Dora. That show meant something to me, because my mom’s side is from El Salvador and Dora was Salvadoran. I had never seen a Salvadoran character, let alone a major one, on American TV before, so I was devoted to that show. When it got canceled, I was pissed and wrote a letter on purple lined paper about how pissed I was. I never sent it, because I didn’t know where to send it. I know, it’s all my fault. I bet the executives at ABC were like, “Okay, so we got 20,000 letters to bring back ‘I Married Dora’ and if we get just one more, we’ll give the people what they want.” I will never forgive ABC for that.
Here’s the last iconic scene of I Married Dora. They truly didn’t give a fuck.
Rest in peace, Elizabeth Peña. You will be missed.