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Actress Elizabeth Pena Dies At Age 55

Elizabeth Pena at the premiere of "Nothing Like the Holidays" in 2008 (Getty Images)
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Elizabeth Pena, the husky-voiced actress who seen in movies like Lone Star, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, La Bamba and The Incredibles and more recently guest starred on Modern Family, died on Tuesday at age 55. Her manager told the L.A. Times she had been suffering from a brief illness.

Pena was born in New Jersey to Cuban immigrant parents and, as a teen, attended the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City (the Fame high school). In Hollywood, she played small roles but then landed the lead role on I Married Dora, about a housekeeper from El Salvador who marries her employer to avoid deportation, making it "one of the first major network television series to center on a Hispanic character."

She also acted in Jacob's Ladder, Transamerica and Tortilla Soup but one of her most luminous roles was in Lone Star, the John Sayles film about a Texan town on the Mexican border. She said, "I recorded people's voices to get the proper inflection... I crossed the border a whole bunch to collect a lot of history. I would sit for hours looking at the women, how they dressed..."In the United States, all Spanish-speaking people are lumped into one category. But we're all so different."

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Her nephew Mario-Francisco Robles wrote an obituary for her on Latino Review, adding, "She undoubtedly helped fuel my love of film. She informed my desire to be an actor, writer, and director. I followed in her foot steps at the High School of Performing Arts. It still remains my life's goal to earn a living doing what I love: Creating and performing art, transporting audiences to another place for a couple of hours. She did it all, and she made it look fun. She made it look easy. But I know it wasn't. I know she had a drive like no other, and that she was a force to be reckoned with when she decided it was time to make it big or...well, nothing. She never considered an alternative. Her singular focus was breathtaking, and awe-inspiring. "