An actor who chose roles not safe all the time, scene-stealing Raul Julia (1940-1994), the eldest of four children, spent his first 24 years in Puerto Rico where his beloved parents wanted him to become a lawyer.
He wanted something else: "When I looked inside myself, I knew that acting was what I wanted to do."
So he pursued his desire on stage, taking risks and landing roles with his outrageous auditions. Once he got the role, he did exhaustive research and earned a reputation for talent, professionalism, and dedication, becoming a mentor for other Hispanic actors.
"Be willing to fail," he advised. "Failure is part of success. Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself... Take risks. It opens you to greatness."
With heavy-lidded dark eyes and bright smile, Julia is best known for his portrayal of imprisoned revolutionary Valentin Arregui in the 1985 film Kiss of the Spider Woman (w/ William Hurt), a performance that critic Roger Ebert described as revealing "a poetry that makes the whole movie work."
Julia also played Mexican drug kingpin Escalante in Tequila Sunrise (1988, w/ Mel Gibson), madcap Gomez Addams in The Addams Family (1992), and visionary Miguel Cervantes in the 1992 Broadway revival of The Man of La Mancha.
"To me, the theater is like standing on top of the mountain and shouting your confession," he explained. "And film is like being in the confessional, whispering, 'I have done this, I have done that.'"
An advocate for human rights, with a steadfast commitment to ending world hunger, Julia's passionate heart gave way when he was only 54. Actress Meryl Streep, his co-star in The Taming of the Shrew (1978), said Julia "emanated exuberant joy," which sustained his collaborations "like heat in winter."
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