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Chicago-born actress Sarah Goldberg, 40, dead of natural causes

Sarah Goldberg landed her first show business break because of table linens.

She helped arrange tablecloths and napkins for “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” the Julia Roberts-Dermot Mulroney movie filmed at the Cuneo mansion in Vernon Hills.

Enchanted by the set, she wandered around. A film staffer spotted the glowing brunette and asked, “Do you have a purple formal?” He wanted her to be a wedding scene extra.

“She said, ‘No, but I could get one,’ ” said her mother, Judy Goldberg. They raced around and bought a gown, and the ingenue appeared briefly onscreen in the 1997 film.

Ms. Goldberg, who started out as a little bumblebee in a Chicago City Ballet production of “Cinderella” and grew up, moved to California and landed roles in the TV shows “7th Heaven,” “House,”

“Judging Amy” and the movie “Jurassic Park III,” died in her sleep at age 40 of natural causes, her family said.

An autopsy failed to determine a cause of death, but a heart ailment is suspected, her mother said. On Sept. 27, she died peacefully in her sleep, her computer in her lap at the family cabin in Wisconsin.

“She went to sleep and didn’t wake up,” her mother said.

Ms. Goldberg attended the Latin School of Chicago, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Amherst College and was planning to study medicine until being bitten by the acting bug in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

She appeared as a college student seeking drugs in the gritty Denzel Washington movie, “Training Day.”

After five months of auditions, she landed her best-known TV role. In the long-running “7th Heaven,” she was Sarah Glass Camden, a medical student and daughter of a rabbi portrayed by comedian Richard Lewis. Her character fell madly in love with Matt Camden, the son of a Christian pastor played by Stephen Collins. Their whirlwind interfaith romance was a fan favorite.

“She would walk down the street here, or places in Wisconsin, and people would come up to her and say, ‘You played the daughter’ ” of the rabbi, her mother said.

“She wanted to go to medical school, and instead for three years she played a doctor on ‘7th Heaven,’ ” her mother said.

In “Jurassic Park III,” she was Cheryl Logan, a graduate student of Dr. Alan Grant, played by actor Sam Neill.

Ms. Goldberg had recurring roles as Colleen Sarkossian on the 2008-2013 series “90210” and as Heather Labonte on “Judging Amy.” She also appeared in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Without a Trace.”

She was thrilled to be cast in Patrick Swayze’s “The Beast,” a series set in Chicago. “She loved working with him. She thought he was incredible, especially after watching ‘Dirty Dancing’ 900 times,” her mother said. During filming, her trailer was in front of her alma mater, the Latin School.

Ms. Goldberg’s credits sometimes list her as Sarah Danielle Madison, a name she took because of her fondness for Madison the mermaid in the movie “Splash.” At Latin School, the young fan did a project in which she crafted a mermaid tail. “She would sit in the tub and flop around pretending she was a mermaid,” her mother said.

Proud of her Jewish heritage, she wasn’t interested in erasing her ethnicity, her parents said. She thought the stage name would better guard her privacy.

Ms. Goldberg returned to Chicago for the Jewish holidays and hadn’t yet returned to her Santa Monica home when she died.

She also did voice overs and appeared in a popular Taco Bell Super Bowl commercial featuring Carmen Electra.

She was born in 1974 in Springfield, where her father, Bill Goldberg, a litigator at Seyfarth Shaw, was then an attorney in the administration of Gov. Dan Walker. The family moved back to the Near North Side, and she was cast in a production of “Cinderella” at the Chicago City Ballet, founded by prima ballerina assoluta Maria Tallchief. She loved being onstage, where “she would almost walk in front of Suzanne Farrell,” said her mother, speaking of one of the greatest of American ballerinas.

The young Sarah was a skilled volleyball player at Latin School and Amherst, where she graduated in 1996.

A firm co-owned by her mother, BBJ Linen, was handling the table linens for the set of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” where she caught a staffer’s eye and got cast.

When she headed to California, her only contact out West was an acting teacher, her family said. Soon, she landed an agent and roles.

A graceful athlete, she practiced yoga for 20 years and did trick skiing. “She could get on (skis) backwards and blow kisses to people and pretend she was a water skier,” her mother said.

Ms. Goldberg made many friends during a decade or so of visits to Campo Fiesta in northern Wisconsin, where she was a camper, and later, a counselor.

A dog lover, she had a Chihuahua-terrier mix, Bucket, whom she rescued the day she was to be euthanized. Her parents are showering Bucket with attention. “The dog’s going to be such a little princess,” her mother said.

She also is survived by her brother, Bradley.

Services were held.

The cast of “7th Heaven,” TV’s longest-running family drama, gathers for the show’s final episode called “Goodbye & Thank You.” Cast members, front from left, are Catherine Hicks as Annie Camden, Stephen Collins as Eric Camden, Nikolas Brino as Sam Camden, Lorenzo Brino as David Camden, Mackenzie Rosman as Ruthie Camden, Barry Watson as Matt Camden, Sarah Danielle Madison (Sarah Goldberg) as Sarah Camden, Beverley Mitchell as Lucy Camden and George Stults as Kevin Kinkirk. (AP Photo/The WB, Danny Feld)