María Salud Ramírez Caballero, the Inspiration For Mamá Coco, Passed Away at the Age of 109
María Salud Ramírez Caballero, the woman who inspired the character Mama Coco in Pixar’s 2017 hit film, has passed away at 109 in Santa Fe de la Laguna, the town where she lived her entire life.
The Michoacán native was described by Roberto Monroy, the state’s Secretary of Tourism, as a “tireless woman and life model,” according to TMZ. In a recent tweet, Monroy wrote, “I deeply regret the death of Doña María Salud Ramírez Caballero, ‘Mamá Coco,'” adding, “who was the inspiration for this beloved character who went around the world.”
“Coco,” which was released in 2017 but had been in production since 2011, was heavily inspired by towns like Santa Fe de la Laguna after the film’s creative team conducted a series of location scouts and interviews. Reportedly, some of the creatives behind the Disney film even stayed at Ramirez’s house for a time.
Like many others in Santa Fe de la Laguna, Ramírez was a Purépecha potter who sold her clay goods to other locals. Tourism in the small town increased significantly after the film was released and some, like potter Gabriela Gabriel Fabián, appreciate the interest that people have had in the town since 2017.
“It has benefited us because many more tourists come,” Fabián said in an interview with El Universal. “This town is known because of the lady’s fame. They buy our artwork, everything we do, and figures of her.”
However, that recognition has become a double-edged sword for Ramírez in particular, who appreciates the attention but found herself reminding tourists that she was not, in fact, Mama Coco, but a real human being.
In a video interview with News China TV, Ramírez expressed her frustrations with the film’s producers, along with the fans who have come to visit her.
Ramírez said that Disney “offered me so many things, but nothing came of it.” She continued, “They only came and took my picture and took it with them. They asked me what I need. Well, look at how I live, and [I’m]alone. My daughters live here, behind the house. And I’m here alone, that’s what I have.”
Ramírez has also been both honored and frustrated by her association with Mama Coco, as many fans of the film came to Santa Fe de la Laguna and insisted that she was Mama Coco and not the inspiration behind the character.
“Yes, but [“Mama Coco’s”] not my name. [The producers] chose that name,” she said. “And now all the people who come and visit tell us that’s my name. But I tell them no, it’s not my name. My name is María de la Salud.”
Although Ramírez reportedly loved being involved with the film, Disney has not shared a single dollar of the film’s profits with the town of Santa Fe de la Laguna or Ramírez’s family.
Disney even tried to trademark the term “Día de los Muertos” (despite the proper translation, which is Día de Muertos) in 2015, leading to a swift backlash and claims of cultural appropriation, leading Disney to abandon their pursuit just one week after the announcement.
Despite the controversy, “Coco” is a celebrated story the world over and has given so many viewers a chance to understand and appreciate the history of Día de Muertos in a way that very few films ever have. One particularly affecting story involves China’s censor board, which was so moved by the film that they approved it for release despite content that was deemed objectionable under their guidelines.
It is the all-time highest-grossing film in Mexico and was #1 at the box office for longer than any animated film in the 21st century. The film went on to win Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song at the 90th Academy Awards ceremony and, to date, has grossed more than 800 million dollars worldwide.
Ramírez, who was 109, is survived by three children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.