The inspiration for Pixar’s ‘Mamá Coco’ dies at 109

María Salud Ramírez Caballero died on Sunday, without the animation studio ever recognizing her contribution to the film

The character of Mamá Coco (l) and María Salud Ramírez Caballero (r).

María Salud Ramírez Caballero, the woman who inspired the character of “Mamá Coco” in the Pixar movie Coco, died on Sunday at the age of 109. The Mexican grandmother died in the same town she was born: Santa Fe de la Laguna, in the state of Michoacán. Her death was confirmed by Roberto Monroy, Secretary of Tourism for Michoacán, who described her on social media as a “tireless woman and life model” who inspired the “beloved character” of Mamá Coco.

Ramírez Cabellero became known as Mamá Coco after the release of Coco in 2017. In the animated movie, which explores Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions, Mamá Coco is the grandmother of the central character, “Miguel,” who is able to cross to the world of the dead to meet his great-grandparents. But Ramírez Cabellero, who was born in September 1913, was never recognized for her contribution to the Pixar film.

Pixar confirmed that it traveled to several Mexican states to document the Day of the Dead traditions. Members of the team even lived with several local families, including the family of María Salud Ramírez. Fans of the movie and Salud Ramírez’s neighbors quickly spotted the similarity between the Mexican grandmother and Mamá Coco.

María Salud Ramírez waiting at her house, where tourists used to come to take photos with her.
María Salud Ramírez waiting at her house, where tourists used to come to take photos with her.Teresa de Miguel

The real Mamá Coco dedicated her life to pottery with her husband and raised three children, who gave her dozens of grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. When EL PAÍS visited her home in Michoacán in March 2021, her granddaughter, Paty, confirmed that the family had stopped seeking recognition from Pixar five years ago. “The townspeople told us that they [Pixar] had photographed her in the square, and the church and some streets appear in the film,” said Paty.

During the visit, the famous old woman struggled to remember her youth. Did she go to dances? “Just work,” she said. But her family told EL PAÍS about the good times, when she would craft beautiful clay pots that she sold at nearby fairs. These pots were used to stew beans, nopales and fish from the lake. Her life changed in 2017 with the release of Coco. From that point on, Ramírez Cabellero became known as Mamá Coco. She would spend her days sitting next to a huge movie poster, as tourists from across the world lined up to take a photo with her in exchange for a few pesos.

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