She had a 60-year career but was best known as Rosario on 'Will and Grace.'
"Will and Grace" broke all kinds of boundaries as a show that featured LGBTQ characters at a time before that was common on TV. But Shelley Morrison remembers the NBC series as giving voice to another group of people who weren't always featured on network TV: Latina women. The actress, who played Rosario on the show, loved having a chance to portray the character. "It is very significant to me that we were able to show an older, Hispanic woman who is bright and smart and can hold her own,” she said to AP about the show.
Shelley Morrison died this week in Los Angeles. The actress had a 60-year career in film, television and theatre and retired from the industry in 2012.
How did Shelley Morrison die?
1. Morrison's early life and career
Morrison was born Rachel Mitrani in the Bronx, New York, in 1936. Her Jewish parents were from Spain and she spoke primarily Spanish as a child, which led her to play numerous Latina roles in her career. She moved to Los Angeles for college and worked as a stage actress there. The New York Times notes that she was one of the first female stage producers in L.A. Her early film and television credits are nothing short of star-studded. She appeared with Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” and with Gregory Peck in 1969’s “Mackenna’s Gold."
Her career as a character actor continued through the 1990s when she worked with Shelley Long in Troop Beverly Hills and with Salma Hayek in Fools Rush In.
2. Will and Grace
"Will and Grace" debuted in 1998 and followed the antics of two best friends: Will, a gay man, and Grace, a straight woman, played by Eric McCormick and Debra Messing. The cast was rounded out with Sean Hayes as Jack, a gay friend of Will's and Karen, played by Megan Mullally, a socialite who worked at Grace's interior design business. The character of Karen's maid Rosario was introduced in 1999 and was originally intended just to be a single appearance. But the dry, no-nonsense foil to Mullally's giddy, selfish Karen was such a hit with audiences that producers kept her on and she appeared in 68 episodes of the long-running sitcom.
Morrison felt strongly about the show, loving its message as well as the writing and cast. “Rosario is one of my all-time favorite characters,” Morrison recently, told the AP. “She reminds me a lot of my own mother, who loved animals and children, but she would not suffer fools."
Her husband, author Walter Dominguez, said in a statement "Shelley’s greatest pride as an actress was in playing the indomitable Rosario, in a comedy series that furthered the cause of social equity and fairness for LGBTQ people. She believed that the best way to change hearts and minds was through comedy.”
3. Why she wasn't in the revival
When "Will and Grace" returned to TV, Morrison was absent from the cast. This wasn't a choice the producers made: they wanted her to come back and rejoin the ensemble comedy. Instead, she turned down the opportunity, preferring to stay retired. "Shelley has decided to retire,” producer Max Mutchnick told BuzzFeed. “It was with a heavy heart that she gave us that information and that we received it, but it is the way that it goes. It is a choice that she has made. We really wanted Shelley to be a part of this series so we find ourselves having to figure that out moving forward. It was not an easy decision to make but it’s one that she made.”
In order to explain her absence, the show decided that her character had died. They dedicated an entire episode to that storyline, something Morrison knew about in advance and approved of as a good-bye to that character.
4. She lived in the same apartment building for 69 years
Morrison lived in the same apartment building in Los Angeles for 69 years. Her parents also moved there and she made a promise to them that she would always take care of it, The New York Times reports.
5. Death in 2019
On Monday, the AP wrote that Morrison died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from heart failure. She had been hospitalized due to illness. She is survived by her husband of 46 years. The couple adopted three sons and three daughters through a Native American ceremony, reports The New York Times.
6. Tributes from the cast
Morrison's castmates are heartbroken over the death fo their friend and they have all taken to social media to share their feelings. Megan Mulally tweeted: "just got a bulletin on my phone that Shelley Morrison has passed. my heart is heavy. putting Shelley, her beloved husband Walter & their children in the light. thank you for your friendship & partnership, shell. you accomplished wonderful things in this world. you will be missed."
Eric McCormick, who played Will, wrote: "Shelley was a beautiful soul & a wonderful actor. Her work as Rosario, season after season, was as nuanced and real as it was hysterical. She will be missed by everyone at #WillandGrace, she’s a huge part of it. Sending so much love to Walter and Shelley’s whole family. #Rosario"
Sean Hayes shared his thoughts, as well, saying: "Such sad news. Our beloved Shelley Morrison passed away today. She was absolutely hilarious and had the biggest heart. She was a part of our Will and Grace family and will be greatly missed. My heart goes out to her husband, Walter and her entire family.
Finally, Debra Messing posted to Instagram, saying: "Oh, Shelley... what a loss. Our dear Rosario has passed on. Shelley had a career that spanned decades, but she will always be our dear Rosie. She was a kind soul with a huge heart and always had a smile on her face. All my love to Walter and the entire family. #shelleymorrison"
Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer about being a GenX feminist and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.