The life-long acting career of Elizabeth Pena ended abruptly on October 14th in Los Angeles as passed away at only age 55. The actress' death shocked her family, fans and other Hollywood stars that were close to her.
Although Pena's manager initially state that her death was due to natural causes following a brief illness, the Los Angeles County Coroner cited cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol as one of the reasons for her passing along with cardiopulmonary arrest, cardiogenic shock and acute gastrointestinal bleeding. The findings revealed Pena's apparent alcohol abuse problem which her manager and family may have been covering up when discussing her death.
Although Pena may have been dealing with an issue of alcoholism her friends and colleagues were surprised and saddened to hear of her passing.
Pena's Acting Career and Work in Hollywood
Elizabeth Pena has been recognized more recently for her role on "Modern Family" as Sofia Vergara's mother but her acting career has spanned more than three decades. She starred in hit films such as "La Bamba", "Down and Out in Beverly Hills", "Rush Hour" and "the Incredibles".
She recently completed work on the El Rey Network's television series "Matador". El Rey asserted that Pena was a role model, an extraordinary performer and inspiration to the people around her. Pena has showed her range and versatility as an actress through roles in sitcoms such as "I Married Dora" and working opposite Tim Robbins in the 1990 horror film "Jacob's Ladder".
Pena said that she worked very hard to get the role for "Jacob's Ladder" facing competition from big name actresses like Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon auditioning for the part. She worked as a voice actor for Pixar and even as director of certain TV episodes of "Resurrection Blvd" and "The Brother's Garcia". She is the fourth Latina ever to join the Director's Guild of America.
Alcoholism and Fatal Consequences
While the coroner's report revealed fairly conclusively that Pena suffered from an alcohol problem based on her liver and problems with cirrhosis, not much is known about her drinking habits. It seems her family did not want to disclose the circumstances of her untimely death to avoid the stigma and judgment associated with dying of alcoholism.
Unfortunately, these types of fatal consequences for alcohol abuse are all too common- one in 10 deaths among young adults between the ages of 20 and 64 are due to excessive alcohol consumption. Women are experiencing more of the consequences of alcoholism in growing numbers throughout the past decade.
Pena's death is a part of a trend of rising numbers of alcohol-related deaths among U.S. women especially due to cirrhosis of the liver. It is as yet unknown whether Pena received any support or help for her alcohol problem either from rehab or a 12 step program.
Although the link between Pena's alcoholism and death may be surprising to fans, it is not all that uncommon given recent trends in the U.S.
In spite of her secret addiction, Pena was loved by her fans, friends and the colleagues she worked with in Hollywood. Her passing is tragic but could serve as a warning for women her age or anyone suffering from alcoholism.
The reality of addiction, even with legal drugs like alcohol, is that it can be a fatal disease. Heavy alcohol consumption causes stress and sometimes irreversible damage to the liver resulting in death.
Although her family has not yet opened up about her disease, it seems that Pena was a high functioning alcoholic and was able to achieve a long-lasting career regardless of her addiction.