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Raul Julia Biography


Home > Actors > J > Julia, Raul > Biography


Birth Name: Raul Julia
Born: 03/09/1940
Birth Place: Puerto Rico
Death Place: Manhasset, New York, USA
Died: 10/24/1994


He was born Raul Rafael Julia y Arcelay in the Floral Park section of San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 9, 1940. The eldest of four children by Raul Julia, an electrical engineer and restaurant owner, and his wife, Olga Arcelay, a mezzo-soprano from a long line of musicians whom Julia credited as the inspiration behind his career in the arts. He fell in love with performing after portraying the devil in a first grade play, and committed himself to becoming an actor after seeing Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938). Bilingual from an early age, Julia studied the works of Shakespeare while still in grade school and organized productions of his plays while in secondary school. To please his parents, he studied law at Fordham University and the University of Puerto Rico, but soon abandoned that plan to focus his full attention on acting.

Julia began performing Shakespeare in San Juan, where he met actor Orson Bean while the latter was on vacation. Bean convinced him to relocate to New York to gain experience in the city's vast theater scene, and after his arrival in 1964, Julia began landing roles in Spanish-language plays, including translations of Shakespeare. In 1967, producer Joseph Papp saw him read Puerto Rican poetry at the Delacorte Theater, and offered him a role in a production of "Titus Andronicus" for his New York Shakespeare Festival. Julia soon became a staple of the Festival's production, and soon moved to Broadway in 1968 with "The Cuban Thing" and Arthur Kopit's "Indians." He gained notoriety for his intense, passionate performances, and earned his first Tony nomination in 1972 as Proteus in a modernized version of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" at the Delacorte So great was Julia's energy that he was able to double as Osric in the Delacorte's production of "Hamlet" while starring in "Verona" and filming appearances as Rafael the Fixit Man on "Sesame Street" (PBS, 1969- ).

While maintaining his grueling schedule on the New York stage, Julia was also making appearances in feature films and television. He earned his movie debut opposite Al Pacino in Jerry Schatzberg's harrowing addiction drama "The Panic in Needle Park" (1971), and soon landed minor roles, defined largely by his ethnicity, in "The Organization" (1971) with Sidney Poitier, and a film version of Richard Farina's cult novel "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me" (1971). Television would provide more substantive roles for him, including a turn as Edmund opposite James Earl Jones as "King Lear" on PBS in 1972, and his first starring role in "Death Scream" (CBS, 1975) as the lead detective investigating a murder based on the real-life case of Kitty Genovese.

Julia's prominence in the theater world continued to rise throughout the mid-1970s with Tony-nominated turns in the musical "Where's Charley?" (1974) and "The Threepenny Opera" (1976), with Julia as an elegantly menacing, erotically charged Macheath in the latter. His soulful features and heartfelt performances soon minted him as something of a theatrical idol, and to the audiences' delight, he soon essayed more romantic roles including in the Shakespeare Festival's 1978 production of "The Taming of the Shrew" opposite Meryl Streep, as well as "Dracula" and the lead in "Nine" (1982), which earned him his fouth and final Tony nomination. These star-making roles soon gave a boost to his film and television career, and Julia graduated from supporting roles in films like "The Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978) as Faye Dunaway's ex-husband to more substantive parts in Paul Mazursky's "Tempest" (1982) and Francis Ford Coppola's "One from the Heart" (1982). In the former, a modernized version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," he played Kalibanos, a randy Greek goatherd with lustful designs on exiled architect John Cassavetes' daughter (Molly Ringwald) and companion (Susan Sarandon). In the latter, he was a dark and handsome musician who became the ideal lover for a lonely Teri Garr. Julia received his first major film award nomination - a Golden Globe - for his work in "Tempest."

The mid-1980s saw Julia divide his attention evenly between television and film and the stage. His screen efforts were largely successful, with "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985), a surreal adaptation of Manuel Puig's novel about a political prisoner (Julia) who finds escape and love with his homosexual cell partner (William Hurt), bringing him universal acclaim. Julia received a Golden Globe nomination and the National Board of Review's award for Best Actor, which in turn led to more prominent roles in the comedy-mystery "Compromising Positions" (1985), as a detective who aided Susan Sarandon's journalist-turned-housewife in a murder investigation, and Paul Mazursky's "Moon Over Parador" (1988), with Julia earned his third Golden Globe nod as a savvy politico who enlisted an actor (Richard Dreyfuss) to impersonate the recently deceased president of a small Central American country. These turns, as well as appearances as Aristotle Onassis in "The Richest Man in the World" (ABC, 1988) and murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1989's "Romero," earned Julia a spot on Variety's list of the busiest actors in Hollywood between 1987 and 1989.

Julia's career continued at a steady clip in the 1990s with projects as varied as "Presumed Innocent" (1990), in which he starred as Harrison Ford's legal opponent-turned-defense attorney, and Victor Frankenstein in Roger Corman's imaginative "Frankenstein Unbound" (1990). The decade also provided him with his greatest screen exposure and success as the macabre, manically cheerful Gomez Addams in Barry Sonnenfeld's film version of "The Addams Family" (1991). Julia was note perfect as the dashing yet deranged Gomez, a man-child with operatic shifts in emotion and sanity, yet possessed by great devotion for his seemingly monstrous brood. Julia would reprise the role in the equally offbeat sequel, "Addams Family Values" (1993), which saw the addition of an infant Addams to the family, complete with his father's signature mustache.

The following year, while playing Brazilian environmental activist Chico Mendes in HBO's "The Burning Season," Julia contracted food poisoning while on location in Mexico. Having undergone stomach surgery the year before, the situation soon became critical, and Julia was airlifted to the United States to receive treatment. He soon recovered and returned to Mexico to complete the shoot, but had lost a dramatic amount of weight and strength. Despite these issues, he immediately began work on "Street Fighter" (1994), a feature adaptation of the popular video game, with Julia playing the chief antagonist, General M. Bison, opposite martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Though appearing quite sickly, Julia was pleased to take on the project, as it would allow him to spend more time with his children on set. In October of that year, he filmed the Showtime drama "Down Came a Blackbird" (1994), about a war criminal (Julia) that posed as the director of a clinic that treated torture victims and Holocaust survivors.

Shortly after completing the project, Julia was hospitalized for stomach pains. He initially disregarded the situation, and made plans to prepare for work on Robert Rodriguez's "Desperado" (1995). However, he experienced a sudden and devastating stroke that sent him into a coma. On Oct. 24, 1994, Julia died as a result of complications from a brain hemorrhage. Three days later, his body was flown to Puerto Rico, where thousands attended his funeral at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. Memorials were held at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York and in Los Angeles, where prominent Latino and Hispanic performers like Ruben Blades and Edward James Olmos feted him. Julia later earned a posthumous Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and Cable Ace Award for "Blackbird," which would be his final film project. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani subsequently declared Nov. 21, 1994 "Raul Julia Day" in the actor's adopted hometown.

In the years following his death, Julia became a symbol of achievement for Hispanic actors and students alike. A lifelong supporter of social and educational causes, he was an active member of the New York Council of the Humanities, as well as the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, Racial Harmony, and The Hunger Project. Julia also co-founded Visiones Luminosas, an initiative to promote Hispanic screenwriters. For these and other efforts, Julia received numerous honors, including the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey, the Global Citizen Award from The Hunger Project, and the title of overseer of general elections from the government of El Salvador. After his death, Julia was the focus of a scholarship fund from the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, which provided college education for teenagers, and an annual Award for Excellence from the National Endowment for the Hispanic Arts, which honored entertainment personalities for contributing to the growth of Latinos in the arts. Among its recipients was Sandra Bullock for producing "The George Lopez Show" (ABC, 2002-07).