ENTERTAINMENT

Elizabeth Peña, prolific Hollywood actress who starred in 'La Bamba,' 'Modern Family' dies at 55

  • FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2008 file photo, Elizabeth Pena poses as she arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of "Nothing Like the Holidays," in Los Angeles. The "La Bamba" and "Lone Star" actress Pena, 55, has died. Pena's manager, Gina Rugolo, said the actress died Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, in Los Angeles of natural causes after a brief illness. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)

    FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2008 file photo, Elizabeth Pena poses as she arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of "Nothing Like the Holidays," in Los Angeles. The "La Bamba" and "Lone Star" actress Pena, 55, has died. Pena's manager, Gina Rugolo, said the actress died Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, in Los Angeles of natural causes after a brief illness. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)

  • Elizabeth Pena at "The 2002 ALMA Awards" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Ca. Saturday, May 18, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ABC/ImageDirect.

    Elizabeth Pena at "The 2002 ALMA Awards" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Ca. Saturday, May 18, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ABC/ImageDirect.

Elizabeth Peña, the versatile actress who shifted effortlessly between dramatic roles and comedic parts has died. She was 55.

The Cuban-American actress died Tuesday in Los Angeles at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center of natural causes after a brief illness, her manager Gina Rugolo said Wednesday. 

No other details were provided.

Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Peña’s Hollywood career spanned more than four decades.

As a teenager, she began making a name for herself in the New York theatre scene, graduating from the High School of performing arts.

Her film career began in 1978 with Leon Ichaso’s “El Super.”

She would go on to land roles in several major films such as “La Bamba,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Rush Hour.” In filmmaker John Sayles’ “Lone Star,” she memorably played a history teacher who rekindles a romance with an old flame - receiving an Independent Spirit Award for her performance.

Peña was equally at home in comedy, playing the title role of Dora in ABC’s “I Married Dora,” about a housekeeper from El Salvador who weds her employer to avoid deportation.

She racked up TV appearances on shows like “L.A. Law,” “Dream On,” “Resurrection Blvd” and most recently on “Modern Family,” on which she played Sofia Vergara’s mother.

Her co-star on the show, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, tweeted Wednesday: “The entire cast and crew are very sad to say goodbye to one of our Modern Family members RIP to the beautiful & talented #ElizabethPeña.”

Peña most recently appeared on El Rey Network’s drama, “Matador.”

The El Rey Network issued a statement about Peña’s death. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague, Elizabeth Peña. She was a role model, a truly extraordinary performer and an inspiration in every sense of the word. Our thoughts are with Elizabeth’s family and friends during this difficult time. She will be deeply missed.”

Director Robert Rodriguez, who launched El Rey Network, mourned the actress’ passing and tweeted, “So devastated to hear about the passing of Elizabeth Peña. A lovely friend and wonderful actress. She will be truly missed.”

Peña’s “La Bamba” co-star, Lou Diamond Phillips, tweeted, “I am stunned and heartbroken, just found out about the passing of my friend Elizabeth Peña. She was such a life force it's hard to believe… Elizabeth was not only an amazing actress, she was one of the most vibrant, wonderful people I have ever known. My prayers to her family.”

Other celebrities also mourned Peña’s passing on social media.

Eva Longoria tweeted, “Rest in Peace Elizabeth Peña... You paved the way for so many of us!!"

John Leguizamo wrote, “#ElizabethPeña R.I.P one those super rare talents and great human being! She will be immortalized in #sueno and #nothingLIKEtheHolidays!”

He later posted a picture collage of the actress, captioning it “One of the great ones. Truly! #ElizabethPeña you will be missed!”

Debra Messing tweeted: “Elizabeth Peña...a ferociously funny, fierce and singular actress. A beautiful woman who has gone way too soon... I miss you already - RIP”

Zoe Saldaña said on Twitter: “My heart is broken!!! My prayers are with you and your family. We will miss you #ElizabethPeña –ZS”

Peña is survived by her husband, two children, mother and sister.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com.

Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang