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Raúl Juliá: 1940-1994: Actor, Humanitarian

Became Leading Man In Major Films

Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel by Argentine author Manuel Puig, was perhaps the most important film of Juliá's career. Juliá plays Valentín, a political prisoner who survives torture rather than betray his communist comrades. Juliá spent time with South American revolutionaries and lost 30 pounds for the role. In the film Valentín shares a prison cell with Molina, a gay man played by William Hurt, to whom he tells fantastic stories of the Spider Woman in order to pass the time. The two men end up forging a deep and complex bond, conveyed in roles superbly played by both actors. "What emerges from the film is a portrait of the dilemmas of art and politics, fantasy and reality, femininity and masculinity, and despair and hope," wrote Michael Blowen of the Boston Globe. "It is a brilliant, provocative account of what happens when two people find a strange form of love while helplessly trapped in the enveloping web suggested by the title." Though Hurt received most of the accolades, critics praised Juliá lavishly. Juliá "expresses the gradual self-doubt of a man who made a quick political decision and now must suffer the long, ugly consequences," according to Blowen. When Hurt accepted an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film, he did so in both of their names.

Juliá followed up the intense Kiss of the Spider Woman with a role opposite Susan Sarandon in the romantic comedy Compromising Positions. He then appeared opposite Jane Fonda in the thriller The Morning After. In a salute to his native island, Juliá accepted a small role in La Gran Fiesta, the first film made in Puerto Rico. In The Penitent he plays a peasant who portrays Christ in a ritual reenactment of Christ's death, and who must then die as Christ did. Although audiences did not agree, Juliá believed the film was on a par with Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The late 1980s were even busier for Juliá, who appeared mostly in leading roles. Critics thought Juliá's talents were wasted in Moon Over Parador, but his role in Romero was widely acclaimed. In Romero he played Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a human rights advocate who was assassinated in El Salvador. Juliá took the film very seriously. He felt obligated to do justice to this important character, and also wanted to draw attention to human rights violations in Central America. In 1990 Juliá played defense lawyer Alejandro "Sandy" Stern opposite Harrison Ford in the murder mystery Presumed Innocent. He spent long hours with actual criminal attorneys to research the role of Stern, who is fighting a corrupt legal system.

Juliá may best be known to modern audiences for his 1991 role in The Addams Family, a motion picture version of Charles Addams's morbid but loveable cartoons and the 1960s television series they inspired. The film, which also starred Angelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd, "is more laughs than a casketful of whoopee cushions at a mortician's convention," critic Rita Kempley wrote in the Washington Post. Lest someone accuse him of selling out by taking a role in a blockbuster movie, Juliá was quick to point out the finer merits of the job. "I'm grateful that it was [successful], but nobody knew it was going to be such a huge success," he said in an interview with Cigar Aficionado. Playing Gomez, he said, allowed him to be "as theatrical as I want to be … he sings, he dances, he sword fights. I've always wanted to do those swash-buckling things. It's one of the reasons I became an actor, to do those things, and I get to do them as Gomez." Juliá was able to portray Gomez again in the 1993 sequel to the film, Addams Family Values. The Christian Science Monitor wrote, "As smartly produced and smoothly directed as the original, it has a more bitingly satirical plot and a steadier stream of laugh-out-loud dialogue."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dan Jacobson Biography - Dan Jacobson comments: to Barbara Knutson (1959–2005) Biography - PersonalRaúl Juliá: 1940-1994: Actor, Humanitarian Biography - Fell In Love With Acting Early, Career Ranged From Shakespeare To Soaps, Theater Career Gave Way To Movies