One of Latin America's most popular film stars has died in Mexico City. Maria Felix (born Maria de los Angeles Guerena), known throughout the Spanish-speaking world and in many European nations for her 47 film roles, died in her sleep on Monday her 88th birthday. News of her death has caused great tumult and sadness in the Mexican capital.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the home of Maria Felix in the fashionable Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City after local news media interrupted their programs to announce her death. Thousands more are expected to gather later at the Bellas Artes theater where the movie star's body is to be placed so that the public can bid her farewell.
Although she had not made a film since 1970, Maria Felix remained an important cultural figure in Mexico, remembered by many for the song she inspired.
The Mariachi favorite "Maria Bonita" was written by famed Mexican composer Agustin Lara when he was married to Maria Felix. He was one of at least four husbands she had during her film career that began in 1941. That period, the 1940's and 1950's, is still known as the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Mexican films of that time were popular throughout Latin America. Among the pictures for which Maria Felix is best remembered are "La Generala," "Rio Escondido," and "Dona Barbara." The latter film, based on a novel by Venezuelan author Romulo Gallegos, provided the actress with a nickname, La Dona, that followed her through the rest of her years.
Although her beauty faded, her tough personality remained and even political figures at times felt the sharp tongue of "La Dona." Last year, for example, she criticized President Vicente Fox for spending too much time "on his knees"as he put ittrying to accommodate Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos, whom she referred to as a clown.
Some of her Mexican co-stars from the Golden years, like Pedro Armendariz and Dolores Del Rio, went on to achieve success in Hollywood films as well. But Maria Felix remained in Latin America, except for a few films she made in France and Italy. In later years she lived in a house in France as well as at her home in Mexico.
In one of her last dramatic appearances, on Mexico's Televisa television network, Maria Felix recited a poem that might have served as her epitaph. She spoke of how her movie roles had given her a certain immortality, in that they have been seen and will be seen by generations of Mexicans, past, present and future. On Monday, the final curtain closed on Maria Felix, but the crowds gathered in mourning here in Mexico have confirmed her continuing status as a cinematic legend.