‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Selena’ Actress Lupe Ontiveros Dead at 69

Actress Lupe Ontiveros was known almost as much for her activisim as for her screen roles

Actress Lupe Ontiveros, whose career spanned from a roles in the 1997 film "Selena" to the ABC dramedy "Desperate Housewives," has died at the age of 69, following  a battle with liver cancer.

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A spokesman for Ontiveros confirmed that she died at 10:20 p.m. Thursday, adding that her death was peaceful and she was with immediate family.

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Jacob Vargas, Ontiveros' "Selena" co-star, was also with the actress in her final moments. Vargas tweeted Thursday night, "My friend Lupe Ontiveros just passed away. May you rest in peace. Thank you for your great contribution to film and TV. You will be missed."

Born Guadalupe Moreno, in El Paso, Texas, Ontiveros worked for 18 years as a social worker  before breaking into acting. She landed an early role in 1983's "El Norte," playing a seamstress and maid who mentors a young Guatemalan immigrant, and went on to roles in "The Goonies," "Dolly Dearest" and "Mi Family/Mi Familia," but broke through with her portrayal of Yolanda Saldivar, the deranged fan-club president who murdered Tejano singer Selena, in the 1997 film "Selena."

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Ontiveros also had a considerable career in television, notably playing Juanita "Mama" Solis, the suspicious mother-in-law of Eva Longoria's Gabrielle Solis, on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." The role won her an Emmy nomination. (She also starred as Abuelita on Rob Schneider's CBS sitcom "Rob.")

A diehard activist, Ontiveros stumped for a number of causes, including higher education opportunities for Latinos, AIDS awareness, domestic violence prevention and other health issues. She was also dedicated to improving care for the deaf — a cause that was no doubt dear to her heart, as her sons suffered from deafness.

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In a statement, Ontiveros' family noted that the actress had died "in the company of her loving family as she made her transition in peace." Referring to her as "a tireless advocate for many causes", the family said that donations in her honor can be made to the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness and the Los Angeles Theatre Center. (Donations to the latter should include "in honor of Lupe Ontiveros" in the subject box.) 

National Hispanic Media Coalition president and CEO Alex Nogales remembered Ontiveros as a "dear friend" who never gained the spotlight but will be remembered both for her acting and fierce commitment to others.

"Lupe was a dear friend. She worked tirelessly to perfect her craft and open doors for countless Latinos along the way," Nogales said. "Hollywood never gave her the lead role, but in our hearts she will be remembered as our leading lady. She will be deeply missed by all of us."