Theater icon Celia Diaz Laurel passes on at 93

Mario Dumaual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 13 2021 11:06 AM | Updated as of Jul 13 2021 05:29 PM

Theater icon Celia Diaz Laurel passes on at 93 1

MANILA -- Stage icon Celia Diaz Laurel has passed, leaving behind a rich legacy in theater performance and arts. She was 93. 

In their announcement on Laurel’s Facebook account, her family disclosed that she passed on at 8:30 p.m. Monday. 

“Our star is home where she rightfully belongs. It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved CELIA DIAZ LAUREL yesterday, July 12, 2021 at 8:30 pm. Mrs. Laurel is survived by her children Suzie, Lynnie, Cocoy, David, Larry, and Iwi,” the post stated. 

Laurel is best remembered as the wife of the late Vice President Salvador Laurel and the mother of showbiz stalwarts Victor and Iwi Laurel. But on the arts and culture front, she was much more as an actress and set and costume designer, notably at Repertory Philipppines, a writer, and a long-time patron of the arts. 

Just last May, Laurel published her memoirs, “My Lives Behind the Proscenium,” a fascinating look-back of her several transformations as a woman and artist through the seasons. 

Edited by two of Laurel's children, Suzie and Cocoy, it was launched live on Facebook on May 29, her 93rd birthday. 

Close Laurel family friend, veteran writer Toots Tolentino, recalled that she personally attended the Facebook session.

“I will always remember her poise, gentility and quietude amid chaos and confusion,” Tolentino told ABS-CBN News Tuesday. 

“Napakabait at ang breeding to the max! She’s so malambing -- that‘s the Ilongga in her. Of all the households, rich and poor alike I’ve visited, sa kanya wala akong narinig na tumataas ang boses, sumisigaw o nag-aalburuto. Tatawag siya magsilbi ng merienda, pabulong pa siya magsabi sa mga kasama sa bahay.” 

Born 1928 in Talisay, Negros Occidental, Laurel’s love for acting began in her elementary years at Assumption College in Manila.

She would later join Eggie Apostol (who would become a journalist and founder of Philippine Daily Inquirer), Isagani Cruz (later Justice of the Supreme Court), and Beniting Legarda, Jr. in the Legion of Mary where they would mount fund-raising productions, recounted in “My Lives Behind the Proscenium.”

At the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, Laurel acted under playwright, director Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero.

She was also mentored by visiting Russian-American director Sonia Rifkin who chose her to portray the difficult role of Adela in Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba”; and Fr. James Reuter for the Jesuit’s popular radio program that staged plays. Laurel further honed her skills at the Yale School Of Drama in the US, after which she made her mark at Repertory Philippines. 

Her last project as a costume designer was for Baby Barredo’s "Guadalupe the Musical" (2018), where Laurel showcased her skill in recreating the look of 16th century Mexico. 
At the end of her book, Laurel wrote: “I believe that in every production design and costume created, and in every role I played as an actress, I had the Master Director leading me on and blessing my works. To Him I offered them all, as I would in every role I played behind the proscenium. And I am indeed, truly grateful.”

A private family wake will follow at the Laurel residence after her cremation Tuesday at Heritage Park, according to Suzie Delgado. Inurnment has been set at the Sanctuario de San Antonio at Forbes Park, Makati.