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Actress Carmen Zapata dies at age 86 after long film, advocacy career

LOS ANGELES -- Emmy-nominated actress Carmen Zapata, who started a foundation to promote Hispanic writers because jobs were so scarce, has died of heart problems, colleagues say. She was 86.

Zapata died Sunday at her Van Nuys-area home, said Luis Vela, marketing manager for the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles.

Zapata started her career in 1945 in the Broadway musical “Oklahoma” and went on to perform in “Bells Are Ringing,” “Guys and Dolls” and many plays.

“She was an inspiration for me,” Vela said. “She taught me that art is the key to resolving differences in the community.”

He said Zapata was once asked how she wanted to be remembered — as an artist, producer or founder. “`I prefer people remember us as educators,”' Vela recalled her saying.

Her movie credits included “Sister Act,” “Gang Boys” and “Carola.” She also appeared in dozens of television series, including nine seasons on the PBS bilingual children's show, “Villa Alegre.”

Zapata had continuing TV roles in “The Man and the City” and “The New Dick Van Dyke Show.” She sang in several other musicals, including “Bloomer Girl.” “No Strings,” “Show Boat,” “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off” and “Funny Girl.”

Born in New York City of Mexican-Argentinian descent, Zapata joined forces with Cuban-born actress, playwright and director Margarita Galban to found the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in 1973.

The organization produces four plays a year that are presented at its 99-seat theater. Productions alternate in English and Spanish, with some shows taken on the road by production companies.

Zapata collected Emmy nominations for best supporting actress in a segment of “Medical Center” and for “Carola” on “Hollywood TV Theatre.”

Vela said he last saw Zapata on Christmas Eve.

“Everyone who worked with her felt she had created something really important and was making our community a better place.” he said. “She was emphatic that what we were doing at the foundation was more important than personal recognition.”

She wasn't working on any one project when she died, Vela said, but was supervising and approving projects being presented to her.

Funeral and service arrangements were being finalized.

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In this photo provided by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, actress Carmen Zapata poses with honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant, left, and chamber president Leron Gubler, right, as she receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Oct. 2, 2003. (AP)

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