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"Selena" co-star Lupe Ontiveros dies at 69

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POSTED: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 4:11pm

UPDATED: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 4:13pm

(CNN) -- Actress Lupe Ontiveros, who co-starred in the hit films "Selena" and "As Good As It Gets," has died of liver cancer, her publicists said Friday. She was 69.

Ontiveros passed away Thursday night. Before her death she had received phone calls from actors all over Hollywood as well as political figures, including Edward James Olmos and Hilda Solis, said Roy Cosme of Arcos Communications.

TMZ reports that Ontiveros' "Selena" co-star Jacob Vargas was at her bedside when she died.

The Mexican-American actress built her career playing domestic workers, and in a 2009 interview with NPR said she had appeared as a maid more than 150 times in roles on shows like "Who's the Boss." Her near-constant gigs made her one of the most recognizable Latina actresses in Hollywood.

In an interview with CNN in 2009, Ontiveros said her repeated casting as a housekeeper was "upsetting."

"It's upsetting to any culture when that is the only projection you have of that culture," she told Soledad O'Brien. "You're pigeon-holed, stereotyped. That means we don't like you. We forget that this country was founded by immigrants."

One of her more recognizable roles came later in life when she played Yolanda Saldivar, the woman convicted of killing Tejano superstar Selena in the 1997 blockbuster movie of the singer's life.

Her "Selena" co-star Jennifer Lopez said Friday she was "tremendously saddened" by Ontiveros' passing.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition praised Ontiveros as a "trailblazer" in a statement Friday.

"She worked tirelessly to perfect her craft and open doors for countless Latinos along the way," said NHMC President Alex Nogales. "Hollywood never gave her the lead role, but in our hearts she will be remembered as our leading lady."

Ontiveros was a founding member of The Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles, according to the NHMC.

Actor Luis Guzman tweeted Friday, "R.I.P. Lupe Ontiveros thank you for all your work and being a Pioneer."

Cosme, who serves on the board of the Latino Commission on AIDS, described Ontiveros as being as much a community activist as a movie star, and a major voice in the Latino community's ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. In the past, Ontiveros was a co-host of the Latino Commission on AIDS' fundraiser.

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