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 11:10 PM EDT, Sun April 20, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Country singer Kevin Sharp has died from "complications due to cancer," his mother told CNN. He was 43.
updated 7:29 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
The brother-in-law of Britain's Prince Charles died in New York after suffering a head injury in a fall, the prince's official residence announced.
updated 3:14 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Win Tin, a founding member of Myanmar's National League for Democracy who was jailed for 19 years for political activism, has died at Yangon Hospital. He was 85.
updated 5:35 PM EDT, Sun April 20, 2014
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the middleweight boxing contender who spent 19 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of a triple murder, has died.
updated 9:55 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," has died at age 87.
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Jose Luis "Cheo" Feliciano, a giant of salsa music and Puerto Rican legend, died in a car crash in San Juan, police said. He was 78.
updated 4:01 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Born James Hellwig, before legally changing his name to Ultimate in 1993, he is fondly remembered by many for his rivalries in the ring and for his trademark vivid face paint.
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Actor Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood's brightest stars in the 1930s and 1940s, died in California at age 93.
updated 6:23 PM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
Model and TV personality Peaches Geldof, daughter of Irish musician and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, has died at age 25.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Comedian John Pinette was found dead in a Pittsburgh hotel room. He was 50 years old.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
DJ Frankie Knuckles, who died at 59, is remembered as a legendary producer, remixer and house music pioneer.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
Kate O'Mara, the British actress best known for playing Joan Collins' sister Caress on the 1980s show "Dynasty," has died. She was 74.
updated 8:03 AM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014
Ralph C. Wilson Jr. -- the founder and longtime beloved owner of the Buffalo Bills, not to mention a leading figure in the NFL's rise to prominence -- has died.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Gwar lead singer Dave Brockie has died at age 50.
updated 3:52 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
James Rebhorn, whose acting resume includes a long list of character roles in major films and TV shows, has died at age 65.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Sun March 23, 2014
Former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez died at age 81 after long illness.
updated 2:06 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Fred Phelps, the founding pastor of a Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay protests at public events, including military funerals, has died.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
L'Wren Scott, a noted fashion designer who has been Mick Jagger's companion for more than a decade, was found dead in her apartment of an apparent suicide. She was 49.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
Scott Asheton, who co-founded and played drums for the influential proto-punk band the Stooges, has died. He was 64.
ADVERTISEMENT