Vanessa Williams and Silvio Horta's Friends Remember Ugly Betty Creator as a Man Who Broke TV's Mold
"On the page and in his life, he had enormous heart,” said longtime friend Peter Hume
“Silvio Horta was ahead of his time,” actress Vanessa Williams told PEOPLE. “He boldly broke sexual, racial and class attitudes back in 2006 giving power and strength to voices rarely heard on mainstream TV.”
“Silvio helped to amass a tight and talented cast and then let us soar higher and higher with each episode,” Williams added.
Williams, 56, played a titular title on the show as Wilhelmina Slater, the sassy creative director of a Manhattan fashion magazine. She earned several award nominations and a Teen Choice win for her character.
Her costar, Judith Light, told PEOPLE the loss of Horta is “devastating.”
“He gave us a world on Ugly Betty that we all cherished; friendships were forged and are still as vital today as they were when we were all working together on the show,” Light said in a statement.
“He was a man of his word. I did a pilot for him called Sold. It never went to series. He told me that he would write something else for me someday; that part was a gift of a lifetime; it was the part of Claire Meade on Ugly Betty.”
“Thinking now of his family and friends; the pain of their loss and sending them heartfelt condolences and letting them know how much he meant to me and so many. He was deeply loved and will be profoundly missed. His heart was as big as his talent.”
Peter Hume, a screenwriter and longtime friend of Horta’s, echoed their praise.
“Silvio is one of those rare writers who can get you laughing, then sink an unexpected emotional dagger that brings you to tears before getting you smiling again,” he said in a statement. On the page and in his life, he had an enormous heart.”
Hume also addressed Horta’s struggles, which sadly played a part in his death.
“He had been clean for almost a year, but sobriety failed to lift the anxiety and depression that haunted him daily,” Hume said. “It crippled him. Even though he had loving family and friends trying their best to guide him, he could not see a path out of the darkness.”
His mother, Anna, and sister, Hilda, released a statement to PEOPLE following their loved one’s passing.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear brother and son, Silvio Horta. Through his friendships, his love and his work in TV and films, Silvio touched the lives of millions,” they said. “Silvio had an ongoing struggle with addiction and depression, but through it all, he always found a way to turn his struggle into laughter. He was a kind and beautiful man. He may be gone but his light will shine on.”
Ana Ortiz, who played Hilda Suarez in Ugly Betty, said she was “stunned and broken-hearted by the news”
“So devastating for such a young, talented, full of life artist to be gone,” the actress said in a statement. “The entire Ugly Betty family is mourning this loss. He is loved & he will be missed.”
Ugly Betty executive producer Ben Silverman, who hired Horta to adapt the Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, after acquiring the rights in 2006, also spoke out about Horta’s successes and struggles. Silverman told USA Today that Horta was “an incredible voice and talent and a rare person, a gay Cuban writer who hit the mainstream as a kid.”
However, Silverman added that Horta had a difficult time handling all of his accomplishments, sharing that he “never could quite keep up with his own success.”
“It’s sad that he wasn’t happy in his own skin,” Silverman added.
Shortly after his death was announced Tuesday, America Ferrera — who played Ugly Betty‘s titular character — posted a heartfelt Instagram paying tribute to Horta.
“His talent and creativity brought me and so many others such joy & light,” Ferrera, 35, wrote in an Instagram post. “I’m thinking of his family and loved ones who must be in so much pain right now- and of the whole Ugly Betty family who feel this loss so deeply.”
A service will be held in Miami, with a memorial service to be announced in Los Angeles.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.