Raúl Rafael Carlos Juliá Arcelay was born on March 9, 1940, the son of mezzo soprano Olga Arcelay and businessman Raúl Juliá. He completed his primary education at the Espíritu Santo School in Hato Rey. He graduated from high school at the San Ignacio de Loyola School in Río Piedras. As a child, he showed interest in acting and took part in various school productions.
He moved to New York where he studied for a short time at Fordham University. However he returned to continue his education at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree with a specialization in drama in 1964. During that era, he joined a group of actors and comedians who performed at El Convento Hotel in Old San Juan. It was there that he caught the attention of U.S. actor and humorist Orson Bean, who was on vacation in Puerto Rico. He gave Juliá his contact information and encouraged him to move to New York to seek his fortune in the theater.
That first year in New York (1964), he took acting classes from Wynn Handman, artistic director of The American Place Theater and an acting instructor. That same year, he participated in La vida es sueño, from the Spanish writer Calderón de la Barca, his first off-Broadway production, which are generally low-budget but often high-quality productions that are presented in smaller theaters, not in the best known theaters on Broadway. Simultaneously, he supported himself by working various jobs, such as a Spanish instructor and a magazine salesman.
In 1966, he met Joseph Papp, theatrical director and producer who founded the Public Theater with the goal of making theater more accessible to the masses, and began Shakespeare in the Park, works by William Shakespeare that were presented free of charge in New York's Central Park. In the following years, Juliá was part of twelve of Papp's productions. He continued performing in off-Broadway productions until 1968, when he made the cast of a Broadway production: The Cuban Thing.
From that time on, his theatrical career took flight. He received his first nomination for a Tony (the Antoinette Perry Award for Theatrical Excellence) for best actor in 1972 for his portrayal of Proteus in a musical version of The Gentlemen of Verona. He was nominated for a Tony for best actor for his role in the work Where's Charlie? (1974); The Threepenny Operaopera: A dramatic work in which a text is sung and staged, accompanied by an orchestra. The form originated in Italy in the 17th century during the Renaissance. (1974), written by Bertolt Brecht and produced by Papp; and Nine (1982), a musical that reconceptualized the film 8 ½ by Italian director Federico Fellini. He also acted in the Shakespeare works produced by Papp, Macbeth (1966), King Lear (1973), and Othelo (1979), as well as in Dracula (1977 to 1980).
During the 1970s, Raúl Juliá also appeared on the small screen, appearing in small roles in the soap opera Love of Life and in three episodes of the educational children's program Sesame Street. That decade also marked his debut in Hollywood. His first significant role in the movies was in the film The Organization (1971), starring the actor Sydney Poitier. In that era, he also appeared in movies such as The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), The Tempest (1982) and One from the Heart (1982).
In 1985, he appeared in Kiss of the Spider Woman, the film that opened the doors to fame for him in the movies. In this film – based on the novel El beso de la mujer araña (1976) by Manuel Puig of Argentina – Juliá played the role of political prisoner Valentín Arregui, for which he received a nomination for a Golden Globe (a prize awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) and for an Oscar (the prize awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the United States) for best lead actor. His co-star, William Hurt, won the Oscar for best actor that year, and dedicated it to Juliá. For this role, Raúl won the award for best actor from the National Board of Film Review.
Among his most acclaimed movies are Romero (1989), in which he played the role of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated after he went from being an apolitical and conservative priest to becoming an untiring defender of the oppressed and a tenacious critic of the Salvadoran dictatorship and the United States, for supporting it. Later in The Burning Season (1994), he portrayed 'Chico Mendes,' a Brazilian rubber collector who led a fight to defend the Amazon jungle and its inhabitants from developers and was also assassinated. For that role, he won the best actor award from the Emmy (granted by various organizations for excellence in television and emerging media), Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guildguild: A professional association of people of work in the same trade, such as carpenters, cobblers, and so forth., which he was awarded posthumously.
Other films in which Raúl Juliá appeared are Tango Bar (1987), Onassis: The Richest Man in the World (1988, TV), Moon Over Parador (1988), Tequila Sunrise (1988) and Presumed Innocent (1990). He also acted in the family comedies The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993), which were box office hits. In those movies, he portrayed Gomez Addams, the patriarch of the family, as part of an all-star cast that included Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci.
Over the course of his career, Juliá contributed to various humanitarian causes. For 17 years, he was the spokesman for The Hunger Project, an organization dedicated to fighting hunger in the world.
Raúl Juliá died on October 16, 1994, after having battled cancer for about a year. In his honor, The Hunger Project established the Raúl Juliá Ending Hunger Fund, which presents the Raúl Juliá Global Citizen Award, a prize presented annually to actors who are committed to humanitarian efforts. In 1996, an elementary school in the Bronx in New York City was named in his honor.
Oliveras, Carene. "Raúl Juliá". Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular. Web. 20 marzo 2010.
"Raúl Juliá". The Official Masterworks Broadway Site. Sony Music Entertainment. Web. 20 marzo 2010.
"Raúl Juliá (I)". The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com, Inc. Web. 20 marzo 2010.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 31, 2010.