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By LUAINE LEE
PASADENA, Calif.--It sounds like the plot from a telenovela. Sofia Vergara's brother was assassinated in a kidnapping that went awry in her native Colombia nine years ago. Four years ago she developed thyroid cancer. Fifteen years ago she became a mother at 20. But none of that is apparent in the upbeat and sublimely unaffected woman who perches on a folding chair in a meeting room here looking like a living Rubens.
A huge star in Latin America, Vergara has yet to achieve that status here. But people who remember anything about the short-lived sitcom, "Hot Properties," can't forget the zaftig Latina who inveigled her way onto the small screen.
Those who missed out will have a second chance with the comedy "The Knights of Prosperity," premiering on ABC Jan. 3. As the only female in a gang of misfit miscreants, Vergara is, once more, unforgettable.
Dressed in a plunging black knit shirt, white pants and large gold, hoop earrings, Vergara is most proud of her near-perfect teeth. That's because she studied to be a dentist for three years. "But then things started changing, and you start getting opportunities and getting offers of money, and you start following your instinct, and here I am," she shrugs.
The trek from dental x-rays to 8- by 10s was easy because Vergara was discovered on the beach one day. "I wasn't a model or anything. I was just a girl on the beach and they said, 'Can you do this commercial?' I said, 'Yeah, of course.' And I did this Pepsi commercial and it became huge. Everybody goes, 'Who's that girl?' But I was in Catholic school, my last year of high school. I was 17. I just wanted to finish high school and go to dentist school."
After the success of her commercial, she began working on television in Colombia. When she was offered her own TV show from Univision, the big Spanish-language network in Miami, she seized the day. "It was a traveling show. We traveled around the world on prime time. It was a family show to show interesting things and facts in a way that everybody could watch."