I swear the coffee shop where I’m working just started playing “Sleepwalk” right when I started writing this post, a song I’ll always associate with the funeral scene in La Bamba. It’s the same with Elizabeth Peña, the Cuban-American actress who played Rosie, Richie Valens’ half-brother’s pregnant girlfriend. As first reported by Latino Review, the memorable “that girl” of a million roles you may or not remember died Tuesday night at the age of 55. The cause of death is still unknown, other than being listed as “natural causes.”
Peña attended New York’s Performing Arts high school with Ving Rhames and Esai Morales (her La Bamba co-star) and recently had parts in Modern Family (as Sofia Vergara’s mother, who she’s only 13 years older than in real life) and Matador on the El Rey network.
By the end of [the 80s], she had a resumé that included La Bamba, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, *batteries not included, and Blue Steel. She even did something that was almost unheard of for a Latina actress: She had her own primetime ABC series, I Married Dora. She played the title role of Dora in the series, which became infamous and notable because of its controversial premise- which centered on a “green card marriage” that would eventually evolve into something more genuine.
She is survived by her husband Hans, her two teenage children Fiona and Kaelan, her mother Estela, and her sister, Tania. [LatinoReview]
Some of Peña’s more notable roles included parts in Lone Star, Rush Hour, and The Incredibles. The curse of character actors is that they’re sort of like referees – when they’re doing their jobs really well, you almost don’t notice them. You’re not aware of them acutely until they’re gone.