Isela Vega, one of the most iconic and versatile actresses in Mexican cinema, passed away on March 9, 2021, at the age of 81. She had been battling cancer for over a month, according to Despierta América. Her death was mourned by fans, colleagues, and friends, who remembered her as a talented, courageous, and charismatic woman.
A Prolific and Provocative Career
Vega was born on November 5, 1939, in Hermosillo, Sonora. She began her career as a model and was crowned as the “Princess of the Carnival” in her hometown in 1957. She made her film debut in 1960, in Verano violento, directed by Alfonso Corona Blake. She went on to star in more than 150 films, spanning different genres and styles, from popular sex comedies to art house dramas.
She worked with some of the most renowned directors in Mexico and abroad, such as Arturo Ripstein, Sam Peckinpah, Paul Leduc, Roberto Gavaldón, Luis Estrada, and Jaime Humberto Hermosillo. She also shared the screen with many famous actors, such as Glenn Ford, Mario Moreno ‘Cantinflas’, Boris Karloff, Kris Kristofferson, Raúl Julia, and Pedro Armendáriz.
Vega became a sex symbol in the late 1960s and early 1970s, appearing nude in some of her films and posing for Playboy magazine in 1974. She was not afraid to challenge the conservative norms of her time and express her sexuality and sensuality on screen. She also wrote and performed songs for some of her films, such as “Bennie’s Song” for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), directed by Sam Peckinpah. This film, in which she played Elita, a prostitute who helps a bounty hunter find the severed head of a criminal, is considered one of her most memorable roles.
A Winner of Five Ariel Awards
Vega was recognized for her acting skills by the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences, which awarded her five Ariel Awards, the highest honor in Mexican cinema. She won her first Ariel for Best Actress in 1977, for her role as Matea Gutiérrez, a serial killer who seduces and murders wealthy men, in The Black Widow, directed by Arturo Ripstein. She also won the Ariel for Best Supporting Actress in 1999, for her role as Doña Lupe, the owner of a brothel in a small town, in Herod’s Law, directed by Luis Estrada. This film was a political satire that denounced the corruption and authoritarianism of the Mexican government.
Vega also received three honorary Ariel Awards: the Golden Ariel in 2003, for her outstanding career; the Special Ariel in 2017, for her performance in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; and the Ariel for Best Actress in a Minor Role in 2018, for her role as Dora’s grandmother in Dora and the Lost City of Gold, directed by James Bobin. This was her last film appearance before her death.
A Filmmaker and a Mother
Besides acting, Vega also ventured into filmmaking, writing, producing, and directing several films in the 1980s. She made her directorial debut in 1984, with the film La viuda de Montiel, based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez. She also directed the film Las amantes del señor de la noche in 1986, in which she starred alongside Irma Serrano and Emilio Fernández.
Vega had two children: Arturo, from her relationship with singer Alberto Vázquez, and Shaula, from her relationship with actor Jorge Luke. Shaula followed her mother’s footsteps and became an actress and dancer. Vega was very proud of her children and often shared photos and videos of them on her social media accounts.
A Legacy of Beauty and Talent
Isela Vega left behind a legacy of beauty, talent, and charisma that will be remembered by generations of fans and filmmakers. She was a pioneer, a rebel, and a star, who broke barriers and stereotypes in the Mexican film industry. She was also a loving mother, a loyal friend, and a generous person, who supported various social causes and charities. She will be missed by many, but her work and her spirit will live on.