When reports of Maria Cozzi’s death hit the airwaves last month after her taxi driver crashed into an ambulance while heading to LAX on the weekend before New Year’s Eve, articles reported Cozzi was about 60-years-old, which her family and friends say she surely would’ve loved to hear.

Today, a little more than two weeks after the accident, family and friends are remembering the vibrant matriarch who brought joy, laughter and fun everywhere she went — even to those who she might’ve only met a few times.

“Although in real life I did not know Maria Cozzi well, this loss is surprisingly rough. Partially because it happened so suddenly and so bizarrely — riding in a taxi that hit an ambulance? If that happened on screen, Maria would be yelling at the hack screenwriters,” Amy Gill Britt said in a Facebook post. “But also, I feel just a tiny bit like I grew up with Maria Cozzi. I didn’t… but I know Annette Cozzi so well that some of her experiences have become my experiences, and I’m forever grateful to Annette for bringing Maria into my life. There has never been a bigger, brighter personality and if you didn’t know her — oh wow did you miss out.”

Talk to anybody who came into contact with the self-described shepherd, immigrant, wife, actor, mother, writer, producer and grandmother and it’s likely you’ll hear a similar story.

At the age of six, Cozzi’s family emigrated from a tiny mountain village in Calabria — the poorest province in Italy, Cozzi once wrote. “The town fountain was a pipe in a wall (and) I spent my days herding sheep.”

When she started school in Chicago, Cozzi tried to say, like Jesus, “‘I, too, am a shepherd,’ but with my pigeon English, I got nowhere. So I grabbed Sister Reginald’s pointer, bleated ‘baaah’ a few times and got huge laughs even from the nuns. Thus began my career in show biz.”

Cozzi used her history as an immigrant to inform her writings and previously joked she had lived the American dream and the middle-aged woman’s nightmare prior to her death.

At 9-years-old, Cozzi said she hawked fruits and vegetables from the back of her father’s truck on the south side of Chicago, and at 40, she had lunch with the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, in Paris. Around the age of 50, she watched her husband’s company go bankrupt, which resulted in a divorce and a spontaneous move to Los Angeles.

“I’m an immigrant, after all,” Cozzi previously said, adding: “I’ve gone from fruit truck to Mercedes to hiking boots.”

Maria is survived by three daughters, Jennifer, Leslie and Annette, who said in an interview last week that Maria was the most vibrant and alive person anyone has ever met.

“She had a voracious intellect and was interested in everyone and everything. Her first love was the theater, and she loved being involved in any capacity,” whether that was as an actress, writer, producer or audience member, Annette Cozzi said. “She had a joyous sense of humor with the most infectious laugh you’ve ever heard, and her smile lit up the room.”

Maria was an avid hiker, according to Annette. So much so that her daughters described Will Rogers as her second home. And like a true Italian mother, if you said you were hungry, Maria would offer to make you a frittata or a piece of halibut.

“You know, it’s really very easy to make fresh pasta. Go get the flour out of the pantry,” Annette remembers her mother often saying. “If you know my mom, she has cooked you the best thing you have ever eaten,” Annette added. “She had the most generous spirit; she cared for relatives and strangers alike. She was brilliant, beautiful, bawdy and bold, (but) most of all, she loved and was adored by her friends, family, children and grandchildren, who are all inconsolable over this inconceivable loss.”

brennon@smdp.com

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