Skip to main content

'Sister Act' actress Carmen Zapata dead at 86

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 9:17 AM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
Carmen Zapata was
Carmen Zapata was "an accomplished actress, translator, theater producer, and community leader who was knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain," according to the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zapata's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors her work on the stage
  • She was "actress, translator, theater producer, and community leader"
  • Zapata co-founded a theater group to promote bilingual stage productions
  • She was 19 when she made her Broadway debut in the chorus in "Oklahoma"

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Actress Carmen Zapata, whose most visible film role was as a choir nun in "Sister Act," died Sunday at her Los Angeles home. She was 86.

Zapata's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors her six decades of work on the stage, which began in New York in 1946.

Her death from heart problems was confirmed by a representative at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles, which Zapata co-founded in 1973.

She was "an accomplished actress, translator, theater producer, and community leader who was knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain," according to her biography on the group's website.

Zapata, a Mexican-American born in New York, founded the theater group to promote bilingual stage productions. The goal was to "instill cultural pride to Spanish-speaking audiences, and serve as an introduction to the rich and eloquent history of the diverse Hispanic culture to English-speaking audiences," the website said.

She was 19 when she made her Broadway debut as a member of the chorus in "Oklahoma." She initially performed under the stage name Marge Cameron at a time when discrimination against Hispanic actors was more common.

Her television and film résumé is slim until the 1970s, when she began landing acting jobs on series including "Room 222," "Bonanza" and "McMillan & Wife." In 1971, she was hired for a recurring role on "The New Dick Van Dyke Show."

Other shows that decade in which she appears in multiple episodes include "Adam-12," "Love, American Style," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Medical Center" and "The Streets of San Francisco." She often played different characters in the same series, according to IMDB.com.

Zapata's television roles in the 1980s included several episodes as a nurse in "Trapper John, M.D." and 34 episodes on the TV soap "Santa Barbara."

She was cast as one of the nuns in the choir in Whoopi Goldberg's "Sister Act" in 1992 and the 1993 sequel, "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit."

People we've lost in 2014

CNN's Jane Caffrey contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Eric "The Actor" Lynch, who became a celebrity among celebrities by calling in to Howard Stern's radio show, died at age 39.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
Emmy-winning actress Polly Bergen, whose TV and movie career spanned more than six decades, has died at age 84.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Singer George Hamilton IV died at a Nashville hospital following a heart attack. He was 77.
updated 11:30 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Northern Ireland's former first minister and former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley has died. He was 88.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Richard Kiel, the actor best known for playing the James Bond villain "Jaws," died at age 74 in a California hospital.
updated 4:56 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Actress Molly Glynn, who played an emergency room doctor on several "Chicago Fire" episodes, died from injuries after a tree fell on her during a storm.
S. Truett Cathy, the fast-food entrepreneur who turned a single restaurant into the multibillion-dollar Chick-fil-A empire, has died at age 93.
updated 1:57 PM EDT, Sat September 6, 2014
Simone Battle, an "X Factor" finalist and G.R.L. singer, was found dead in a Los Angeles home, a coroner's spokesman said. She was 25.
updated 10:26 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
Joan Rivers, the sassy comedian whose gossipy "can we talk" persona catapulted her into a career as a talk-show host, author and red-carpet maven, has died.
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Jimi Jamison, who belted out the hits "The Search is Over" and "Burning Heart" for 1980s rock band Survivor, has died. He was 63.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
CNN lost a much loved and respected colleague with the sudden passing of photojournalist Sarmad Qaseera.
updated 3:54 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Acclaimed actor-director Richard Attenborough has died at 90, the actor's agent said.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Sun August 24, 2014
The founder of the University of Phoenix, Dr. John G. Sperling, has died. He was 93.
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Don Pardo, the announcer whose velvety baritone voice introduced "Saturday Night Live" hosts on NBC for decades, has died at age 96.
ADVERTISEMENT