'Matador' Cast, El Rey Network Continue to Mourn the Death of Elizabeth Peña With Touching Tribute by Gabriel Luna
"Elizabeth was electric. She was magnetic. She was gravitational. A complete FORCE" -- Gabriel Luna from El Rey Network's hit spy thriller "Matador."
On Tuesday, Oct. 14, the Latino community, the arts and entertainment industry and the world as a whole lost a beloved family member, friend and a trailblazer who helped pave the way for fellow Latina actresses. Elizabeth Peña, the celebrated Cuban-American actress, died at 55 of natural causes after a brief illness, according to her manager Gina Rugolo.
Peña exuded versatility, a sense of humor, sensuality and strength, and she also had a wonderful maternal way about her, being both a real-life mom and a TV mom. She appeared on "Modern Family" where she played the mother of Sofia Vergara's character, Gloria. She also starred in El Rey Network's spy drama, "Matador," where she played the mother of Tony "Matador" Bravo (Gabriel Luna), Isabella Gomez (Cristina Sandoval) and Jonny Cruz (Ricky Sandoval) and the wife of Javi Sandoval (Julio Oscar Mechoso).
"Matador," which is created and executive produced by Roberto Orci, Dan Dworkin, Jay Beattie and Andrew Orci as well as longtime friend and collaborator Alex Kurtzman, chronicles the unexpected rise of Tony "Matador" Bravo (Luna), a DEA agent who becomes a professional soccer player for the LA Riot by day -- and a skilled covert operative, executing missions for the CIA by night.
The "Matador" family and El Rey Network continue to mourn Peña's death.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague, Elizabeth Peña. She was a role model, a truly extraordinary performer and an inspiration in every sense of the word. Our thoughts are with Elizabeth's family and friends during this difficult time. She will be deeply missed," El Rey Network said in an earlier statement.
Luna took the devastating news of Peña's death especially hard as he considered her to be like a mom. In a touching tribute letter to Peña, which Luna also shared with Latin Post, you can see the kind of impact the seasoned actress had on the impressionable actor. (See below.)
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey to Cuban immigrant parents, Peña's Hollywood career spanned four decades and included roles in movies like "La Bamba," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Jacob's Ladder," "Rush Hour" and "Transamerica." In filmmaker John Sayles' "Lone Star," she memorably portrayed a history teacher who rekindles a romance with an old flame, played by Chris Cooper.
In addition to "Modern Family" and "Matador," Peña also appeared on TV shows such as "L.A. Law," "Dream On" and "Resurrection Blvd." She also starred in the '80s sitcom "I Married Dora" in the titular role as a housekeeper from El Salvador who weds her employer to avoid deportation.
She was a voice actor for Disney-Pixar's "The Incredibles," the "Justice League" cartoon series and Seth MacFarlane's "American Dad."
The four-time ALMA Award and Independent Spirit Award winner was also reportedly the fourth Latina to join The Director's Guild of America and was one of the founding members of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (which recently awarded Hector Elizondo, who spoke with Latin Post, a Lifetime Achievement Award).
Peña is survived by her husband, two children, mother and sister.
Read "Matador" Star Gabriel Luna's Touching Tribute Letter to the Beloved Elizabeth Peña:
My heart is shattered. Even after having worked so closely with her over the past year, it has come as a great shock to me as I'm sure it has to many others. All my love goes out to her husband Hans, and her children Fiona and Kaelan. If I feel as I do, having been her "son" for just a brief period, I can only imagine how they must feel at this time.
It was an honor to work with Elizabeth. She was one of those incredible "throw the switch" kind of talents who could be telling a silly (or sometimes risqué) joke in one moment, then once they called "sound speeding" was all of a sudden ON, and one had better be ready to meet her at the line on "Action". She gave you everything you needed as an actor when you stood across from her, and through her fearlessness, would force you to the edge.
She had this beautiful way of looking at you. An initial searching in her eyes and then the moment where you knew she saw you, and quite possibly, knew all your secrets. To hear her voice, that deep and husky and elegant and seductive tone, was like listening to the low rumblings beneath the surface of the Earth. Strong and comforting and you just wanted to be swallowed up by it.
I always looked forward to my days with her. I'd step into the hair and makeup trailer and she'd cradle my face in her hands and say, "There he is. There's my Baby Boy." She myself and the crew would like to joke that I was the baby she and Bob had in La Bamba. She'd kiss me on the cheek and turn to the other's in the trailer and with boundless motherly pride begin to try to make me blush with sweet things to say. We loved to sit and laugh with her, because if you could get her to laugh hard enough it would turn into this funny, mischievous little giggle. Her sense of humor was wonderful. Playful and light, yet all at once, dark and dangerous.
Elizabeth was electric. She was magnetic. She was gravitational. A complete FORCE.
I loved her, and she loved us. She told us so, her "TV kids" (myself, Jonny and Isabella), each day we were together. She'd give us the most warm and awesome hugs, and because she's so little, I'd like to rest my head on the top of hers. I long with all my heart to have one more of those hugs.
I wish it didn't take passing on for the great ones to be recognized as the Legends that they are, but it brings joy to my heart to read all the stories that have been published about her recently. They are unanimous in their conclusion that we have lost a Titan of the industry, a true pioneer for the Latin community, and an exemplary artist who let her art speak for her. I will miss her dearly, but take solace in the fact that I can put the lessons she taught me into practice and honor her through my work. We at the Matador family now have an amazing guardian. We will strive to make her proud.
Thank you Elizabeth. You will live forever in my heart.
I Love You, Mom.
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