While taking a stroll on a Colombian beach, 17-year-old Vergara is spotted by a modeling scout and drops out of dentistry school to pursue a career in entertainment. She soon lands several gigs, including a starring role in a Pepsi commercial.
At 18, Vergara marries high school sweetheart Joe Gonzalez and welcomes son Manolo two years later. But in 1993, the couple calls it quits. "My life as a mother has been hard, but not a nightmare," she tells Florida's Sun-Sentinel of single motherhood. "I do like all working moms do. No life is perfect. What I do, it's part of life."
After Vergara's older brother Rafael is murdered in Bogotá, she and her family relocate to Miami, where Vergara becomes a star as host of Univision's Spanish-language game show A que no te atreves ("I Dare You"). "I will always be grateful to Univision for giving me my start," she tells the Miami Herald. "Nobody knew me before I started working [there]. But there are a lot of offers now and I want to move on. This is the time."
As her career heats up, Vergara is diagnosed with thyroid cancer and undergoes surgery to have a thyroid gland removed. "When they tell you that you have cancer, you panic," she tells Self in 2010. "Now I'm in remission, and the scar doesn't bother me. After the surgery in 2003, I had my son Photoshop a Frankenstein scar on my neck and sent it to my friends and said, 'I'm fine, I look perfect!' It was really funny."
Following her film debut in Big Trouble, Vergara stars opposite fellow Latina stars Roselyn Sanchez and Jaci Velasquez as hotheaded waitress Cici in Chasing Papi. "I did the casting [call] for Chasing Papi and surprised myself and got it," she tells the Los Angeles Times. "I've never taken an acting class in my life. Basically, I'm just going by ear and feeling my way."
After meeting at a party hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, Vergara is spotted exiting Jerry's Famous Deli in Studio City, Calif., with movie star Tom Cruise. But by March, the star downplays their relationship, saying, "I've only known Tom for a very short time. It's funny because the media creates what they want to create."
Taking on the character made famous by Queen Latifah on the big screen, Vergara stars as Mama Morton in Broadway's Chicago. "Ordinarily, more mature, matronly women are traditional Mama types," director Walter Bobbie tells the Miami Herald. "But at the core, she's both warmhearted and tough. Sofia brings that."
Vergara scores her big break playing Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on the ABC sitcom Modern Family, which costars Ed O'Neill as her husband and Rico Rodriguez as her son. "It's very close to me," she tells USA Today of her character. "I'm a mother with a kid, I'm an immigrant in this country…I can show a little bit of my country to the States, to the world."
Vergara begins dating Florida-based businessman Nick Loeb, the heir to New York's Loeb, Rhoades banking fortune. Six months into their relationship, he is seriously injured in a car accident. "It was hard for us because it happened in the middle of the most fun, sexy time," she tells Shape. "But throughout the whole ordeal, Nick kept his sense of humor despite the situation. I don't know if I could have stuck it out with him if he hadn't been able to laugh at himself and be happy even under the worst conditions."
Vergara earns Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for her laugh-out-loud role on Modern Family. "I'm so new to acting," the actress says of her Emmy nod. "I'm not American, so I didn't know that it meant something when they invite you here. Somebody should have told me!" In August, the series wins the coveted outstanding comedy series Emmy, while Vergara and her cast mates take home a SAG Award in 2011 for best TV comedy ensemble.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Frederick M. Brown/Getty; Everett; Bauer Griffin; Joan Marcus/AP; Bob D'Amico; Ramey; Lester Cohen/Wireimage