July 28, 2012 / 12:37 AM / 6 years ago

Latina actress Lupe Ontiveros dies, age 69

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lupe Ontiveros, a veteran Latina character actress who worked in films such as “As Good As It Gets” and on TV shows like “Desperate Housewives,” has died of lung cancer. She was 69.

Actress Lupe Ontiveros poses at BMI's 15th Annual Latin Awards in Beverly Hills, California in this June 12, 2008 file photograph. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files

Ontiveros died at a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday night, said her longtime friend Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

“Lupe became an icon in our community,” Nogales said. “She set a standard for excellence” with her work.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, who knew Ontiveros for more than 20 years, called her friend “a fine actress, but more than that, she was a woman of great action.”

Ontiveros was born Gaudalupe Moreno in El Paso, Texas on September 17, 1942, to Mexican immigrant parents. She received a degree in social work from the Texas Woman’s University before moving to Los Angeles to begin work as an actress.

Her first roles in the mid-1970s were typical of Hispanic parts, mostly maids and housekeepers, and Ontiveros’ friends said that throughout her life she was quick to joke that she’d portrayed domestic workers hundreds of times.

But Nogales pointed out that Ontiveros’ talent ran deep and her skills went far beyond the simple parts she was offered. Indeed, her film and TV credits number in the hundreds and include roles in Oscar-nominated “As Good As It Gets,” which earned Ontiveros an ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Award.

In the film “Selena,” she played the murderer of the star tejano singer, and in 2002’s “Real Women Have Curves” was an overbearing mother.

Ontiveros’ TV credits ranged widely, too, from parts on 1970s hits like “Charlie’s Angeles” to “Hill Street Blues” in the ‘80s, “Veronica’s Closet” one decade later and current day smash hit “Desperate Housewives.”

Outside her acting, Ontiveros used her boundless energy in working on social issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, domestic violence legislation, women’s health problems and rights for people with disabilities.

“As an actress and entertainer, she made us laugh, and she made us cry. As an advocate, she made us think and, more importantly, she made us do something. I will miss her,” Solis said in a statement.

Ontiveros is survived by her husband and three sons.

Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Anthony Boadle

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