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Raúl Juliá: 1940-1994: Actor, Humanitarian

Demanding Schedule Lead To Untimely Death

In 1992 Juliá returned to the stage in a Broadway revival of Man of La Mancha. The demands of performing the musical eight times a week took a heavy toll on Juliá, and reviews were mixed. In a Chicago Tribune review, critic Richard Christiansen wrote, "Juliá's performance at this point rates at least a respectful watch … but the show already looks tired because it is not projected with the confidence and precision necessary to sustain its intermissionless length."

Julia went on to star, along side Edward James Olmos and Sonia Braga, in the 1994 HBO film The Burning Season, a movie based on the true story of Chico Mendes, a Brazilian laborer who launched a campaign to save the Amazon rain forest. The role deeply affected Julia because of its intensity. "It is astounding what emotions this man had to go through to reach his goals," Juliá told the Orange County Register. "There were intense passions, seemingly insurmountable conflicts and gut-wrenching soul-searching that faced him all along the way."

Juliá became sick with food poisoning while making The Burning Season, and had to be airlifted to Mexico City for medical treatment. Stomach surgery he had undergone earlier in the year may have exacerbated the problem, and it took an extraordinary toll on the actor. He lost 45 pounds, but took little time off to recover. After The Burning Season he immediately went to work on the action film Street Fighter, a big-screen version of the video game, in which he played the evil villain General M. Bison. The film was a departure for Juliá, who is known for his highly respected body of work. He took the role in large part at the urging of his sons, who were great fans of the video game.

Juliá was hospitalized for stomach pains after attending an opera with his wife on October 16, 1994. Later that night he suffered a stroke, or brain hemorrhage. Doctors believed he could recover, but his condition worsened until he fell into a coma and, on October 24, 1994, died from complications of the stroke. His body was flown to Puerto Rico, where a massive service was held. A number of services were also held across the United States in the following weeks. Those who knew him personally were shocked and devastated at his early death. Those who did not know him mourned the immensely talented Puerto Rican actor whose work had enriched their lives. He received posthumous Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe, and Emmy awards for his role in The Burning Season.

Selected works


Life is a Dream (La Vida Es Sueño), 1964.

Bye Bye Birdie, 1965.

Titus Andronicus, 1966, 1967.

The Cuban Thing, 1968.

Your Own Thing, 1968.

Indians, 1969.

The Castro Complex, 1970.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1971.

As You Like It, 1973.

Where's Charley?, 1974.

The Threepenny Opera, 1976.

The Cherry Orchard, 1977.

The Taming of the Shrew, 1978.

Othello, 1979.

Betrayal, 1980.

Nine, 1982.

Designs for Living, 1984.

Arms and the Man, 1985.

Man of la Mancha, 1992.


The Organization, 1971.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, 1971.

The Panic in Needle Park, 1971.

The Tempest, 1982.

Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985.

Compromising Positions, 1985.

La Gran Fiesta, 1986.

Trading Hearts, 1987.

Moon Over Parador, 1988.

Romero, 1989.

Presumed Innocent, 1990.

The Addams Family, 1991.

The Plague, 1992.

Addams Family Values, 1993.

The Burning Season, 1994.

Street Fighter, 1994.



Cruz, Bárbara C., Raúl Juliá: Actor and Humanitarian, Enslow Publishers, 1998.


Boston Globe, October 20, 1995, p. 58; March 18, 1994, p. 2; November 9, 2001, p. E6.

Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1991, p. 26; October 25, 1994, p. 11.

Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 1993.

Orange County Register, September 17, 1994, p. F5.

People, November 29, 1993, p. 14; November 7, 1994, p. 127.

USA Today, October 25, 1994, p. D1.

Washington Post, September 8, 1989, p. B7; November 22, 1991, p. B1; February 22, 1992, p. G1; October 25, 1994, p. B6; October 28, 1994, p. B1.


"Only As Good As The Memories: Raul Julia has Charted an Unconventional Path Through Film and Stage," Cigar Aficionado, www.cigaraficionado.com/cigar/aficionado/people/ff1293.html (February 5, 2003).

"Raul Julia," Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com (February 5, 2003).

—Brenna Sanchez

Additional topics

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