Julia, Raul Rafael Carlos

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Julia, Raul Rafael Carlos

(b. 9 March 1940 in San Juan, Puerto Rico; d. 24 October 1994 in Manhasset, New York), actor best known for the comedie role of Gomez Addams in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993).

Julia was the oldest of four children born to Raul Julia, a prosperous restaurateur, and Olga Arcelay, a homemaker. At age five Julia attended a school taught by nuns who spoke mostly English, making Julia fluent in the language at an early age. The acting bug bit Julia when he was cast as the devil in a school play. The usually quiet and reserved little boy jumped on stage and recited his lines flawlessly.

From 1954 to 1958 Julia attended Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, where he studied the plays of William Shakespeare. He appeared in every play the school produced during that time. After high school graduation in 1958, Julia enrolled in the Universidad de Puerto Rico, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts in 1962. While in college he continued to act at local playhouses and nightclubs. After graduation his parents wanted Julia to become a lawyer, but Julia had other ideas. He became involved in theater.

While acting at a San Juan hotel, Julia caught the eye of Orson Bean, an actor and comedian from the United States, who convinced Julia that he should come to New York City to perfect his craft. Much to his parents chagrin, Julia decided to take Bean’s advice. Prior to his departure, however, his brother died in a car accident. Although it was a painful time, Julia moved to New York in 1964.

In 1965 Julia married Magda Vasallo. He worked at a series of odd jobs, tutored people in Spanish, and accepted a stipend from his parents to make ends meet. His New York stage debut was in a 1965 off-Broadway production of La vida es sueño (Life Is a Dream). Later that year he appeared as Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Julia began his long association with the theatrical producer Joseph Papp when he appeared in 1966 as MacDuff in a Spanish-language production of Macbeth with Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. In 1967 Papp cast Julia as Demetrius in Titus Adronicus.

Julia made his Broadway debut in The Cuban Thing in 1968. Unfortunately, the play folded after only one performance. In 1969 Julia divorced Vasallo and met Merel Poloway, whom he married on 28 June 1976; Poloway and Julia had two children. Julia acted in Indians (1969) and The Castro Complex (1970) before having a watershed year in 1971, when a festival production of Two Gentlemen of Verona moved to Broadway. Julia garnered a Best Actor in a Musical Tony nomination for his lusty portrayal of Proteus. Julia made his feature film debut in The Panic in Needle Park (1971), a harsh, realistic study of drug addicts. He also dabbled in a bit of television work during this period, appearing as Rafael the Fixit Man on Sesame Street.

Julia’s stage career continued to thrive through the 1970s. He starred on Broadway in a revival of Where’s Charley? (1974), for which he received his second Tony nomination, and in the revival of The Threepenny Opera (1976–1977), for which he received his third Tony nomination. In 1978 he played Petruchio to Meryl Streep’s Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. Julia received his fourth and final Tony nomination in 1982 for his starring role in the musical Nine.

In 1977 Julia and Poloway began their long association with the Hunger Project, a charity dedicated to ending world hunger. Julia was the charity’s spokesperson for seventeen years. In 1978 Julia had his first major film role in The Eyes of Laura Mars. But it was not until 1985 that his film and TV career took off, when he starred opposite William Hurt in the political prisoner drama Kiss of the Spider Woman. This movie brought both actors a joint award as best actor from the National Board of Review. That same year Julia starred as a detective in the film Compromising Positions. Other significant film roles followed with The Morning After (1986), Trading Hearts (1987), Moon over Parador (1988), Tequila Sunrise (1988), Romero (1989), and Presumed Innocent (1990). On television, he starred in the miniseries Mussolini: The Untold Story (1985) and the made-for-television movie Onassis: The Richest Man in the World (1988).

The 1990s were perhaps the best for Julia professionally, and it is ironic that he became ill at this time. In 1991 Julia landed the role of the dashing, yet ghoulish Gomez Addams in The Addams Family. He reprised this role in Addams Family Values (1993). Julia had his last starring role on Broadway as Don Quixote in the musical drama Man of La Mancha (1992). On television he played the environmental activist Chico Mendes in The Burning Season (1994), which became his most revered performance. For this role, he received a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cable Ace Award, and the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or special. His last role was in the film Street Fighter (1994).

By the time Julia was filming Street Fighter and The Burning Season, he was battling stomach cancer. He died in a Manhasset hospital on Long Island, New York, from complications from a massive stroke. Although there were several tributes to Julia in New York, his final resting place was his homeland. Thousands of people lined the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for his state funeral and burial.

It is much too easy to remember Raul Julia as the man who played Gomez Addams. First and foremost, he was a man of the theater. He also bridged the gap between being proud of his Puerto Rican heritage, yet transcending stereotypes. Finally, his philanthropic endeavors with the Hunger Project, which was renamed Raul Julia’s Hunger Project after he died, are a lasting tribute to the man, the actor, and the humanitarian.

There is no full-length biography or autobiography of Julia, but two young adult biographies, Raul Julia (1994) by Rebecca Stefoff and Raul Julia: Actor and Humanitarian (1998) by Barbara C. Cruz, comprehensively cover the actor’s career, personal life, and humanitarian contributions. Raul Julia (1995) by Frank Perez and Ann Weil is a clever and informative children’s book about the actor, written for grades 3–6. Valuable articles about Julia include Alexandra Witchel, “Raul Julia: Kiss of Success,” Elle (Nov. 1987), and Kevin Sweeney, “Raul Julia’s Romero: A Flawed but Saintly Man,” Lerner Publications (Sept. 1989). Obituaries appeared in Knight-Ridder (24 Oct. 1994), Time (7 Nov. 1994), and People Weekly (7 Nov. 1994).

Kristan Ginther