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'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."

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CNN's Jane Caffrey contributed to this report.

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