Miriam Colon, actor, producer, educator and founder of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, died in New York due to complications from a pulmonary infection Friday at the age of 80, according to a statement by her husband Fred Valle.
Colon, who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, recalled in an interview with EFE eight years ago how the theater came about, "It was a long and wonderful process of learning and continuing to attract people, especially Latinos, and although it is called Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, we realized right away that this is not just us, that we are Latino, and that the message is that when we unite, even if we are from different countries, we represent the entire culture."
The actress began her career at the age of 12 in Puerto Rico and moved to New York in 1953 to pursue her theater studies, going on to perform in theater, film and television, in both Spanish and English and receiving the Garcia Lorca Award of the University of Granada, Spain, a lifetime achievement Obie Award for her work in off-Broadway theater, and the U.S. National Medal of Arts in 2015.
In Hollywood, she starred in TV shows such as "Bonanza" and "Law and Order," and feature films such as "One-Eyed Jacks" and "The Appaloosa," with Marlon Brando. She also starred as Al Pacino's mother in "Scarface," "Lone Star," "City of Hope," and the lead role in the film adaptation of Rudolph Anaya's novel "Bless Me, Ultima," a role her husband said was her most beautiful.
A member of the prestigious Actor's Studio in New York and at the peak of her career in 1969, she founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, where she used her skill and talent to train Latino actors and playwrights such as Raul Julia who starred in several traveling theater productions.
According to Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia newspaper, "If it is possible to speak nowadays of a Puerto Rican theater and a Latino theater in the United States, it is owed to a great extent, to Miriam Colon."
Her theater project gave a forum to the Latino culture and language which was fast becoming a large part of the New York City landscape. It also provided free or low-cost theater which could be enjoyed by Puerto Rican immigrants as well as later influxes from other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
"Miriam was one of the pioneers of Latino theater in New York and perhaps throughout the nation," said director Dean Zayas, who worked with Colon on several plays for the theater, adding, "Although Miriam scaled her talent and opened the doors to Broadway and Hollywood, she never forgot something she thought was her duty, to promote a Spanish-language theater in New York City," according to the daily.
Luis Rafael Sanchez, a writer who worked with Colon said, "Personally I am indebted to the reception of my work on their stage. The staging of 'The Passion According to Antigona Perez' at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, under the master direction of Pablo Cabrera, was of paramount importance to me. Rest in peace the great Puerto Rican, the great actress, the great friend."
Actor Benicio del Toro, who is from Puerto Rico, said in a press release that Colon's legacy will live forever, "She had a brilliant career in theater, film and television, but she did not let her success keep her away from Puerto Ricans. She always thought of her own and of our playwrights."
Miriam Colon will be buried in her hometown of Ponce.