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Mexican Woman Who Reportedly Inspired Pixar’s Mama Coco Dead at 109

The great-grandmother in 2017's Coco was allegedly based on María Salud Ramírez Caballero after producers visited her village

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María de la Salud Ramírez Caballero Mama Coco real-life dead
María Salud Ramírez Caballero (photo via AP) and Coco (Disney)

    María Salud Ramírez Caballero, who reportedly inspired Pixar’s character of Mama Coco in the animated film Coco, has died at the age of 109.

    Her death was confirmed on Sunday, October 16th by Roberto Monroy, the Secretary of Tourism in the Mexican state of Michoacán. No official cause of death was revealed. In a statement posted on Twitter, Monroy remembered the ceramic potter as “the inspiration” for the “beloved character” of Mama Coco.

    Released in 2017, Coco was inspired by the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) and stars a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who ends up in the Land of the Dead after strumming a guitar that once belonged to a famous musician. Mama Coco is Miguel’s great-grandmother in the movie and was voiced by Ana Ofelia Murguía.

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    In 2018, reports surfaced that María Salud Ramírez Caballero (affectionately known as Nana Salud) had served as an inspiration for Mama Coco after producers for the film visited her village of Santa Fe de la Laguna. One of her grandchildren, Patricia Pérez Hernández, told the local newspaper El Universal that she thought Mama Coco’s appearance, movements, way of speaking, and other mannerisms were based on her grandmother.

    Salud told New China TV that producers had taken her picture in the town plaza. “They only came and took my picture and took it with them,” she said, adding that she was offered “so many things, but nothing came of it.”

    Though Salud was never officially recognized as the inspiration for Mama Coco, Santa Fe made her an ambassador for the local artisans. The town also benefited from increased tourism following the release of Coco as visitors looked to get their picture taken with her.

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    For what it’s worth, director Lee Unkrich told The New York Times in 2017 that Miguel’s family in Coco was based on real-world families with whom the production team embedded in 2011 and 2013 while visiting the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guanajuato.

    In 2018, however, Unkrich responded to accusations of Mama Coco being based on Salud by tweeting, “The character of Mamá Coco was not based upon any real person we met in our travels. She sprang solely from our imagination.”

    Salud is survived by her three children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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