Growing up in a blue-collar Long Beach, Calif., neighborhood, Cameron Diaz
learned to stick up for herself—and dream big. And it was her father, Emilio, an oil foreman, who told her she could do anything. "I was never a daddy's girl," she once said. "Dad's son, more like."
So when Emilio, 58, died suddenly on April 15 from post-influenza MRSA pneumonia (see box), his daughter was devastated. Cameron, who missed the London premiere of What Happens in Vegas to mourn with her family, "is doing as well as you can," says costar Ashton Kutcher
. Adds another pal: "Cameron adored her dad."
In the days after his death, Cameron, 35, took time off from filming My Sister's Keeper to grieve with mother Billie—Emilio's wife of 39 years—and sister Chimene, 37. "He was a generous friend, a playful abuelo, an exceptional father and the most devoted husband," said the Diaz family in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE. "He made the world a place of excitement."
On April 20 more than 400 friends, including Cameron's exes Justin Timberlake
and John Mayer, joined the clan for a celebration of Emilio's life at a Seal Beach, Calif., restaurant. "His love for laughter was undeniable," the family said in their statement.
Still, friends say it will take time for Cameron to heal. Due back on-set next week, she may have Emilio to thank for the strength to move on. "[My parents] taught me well and let me learn that life is a challenge," she said in 1997. "I've gladly taken it on."
- Julie Jordan/Los Angeles,
- Alyssa Shelasky/New York City.