'Sister Act' actress Carmen Zapata dead at 86

'Sister Act' actress Carmen Zapata dead at 86

Credit: Getty Images

Actress Carmen Zapata and Nosotros President Jerry Velasco attend the Nosotros 31st Golden Eagle Awards July 27, 2001 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo by Alexander Sibaja/Getty Images)

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by By Alan Duke / CNN

KMOV.com

Posted on January 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 9 at 10:00 AM

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.

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