While The Big Lebowski may have a little bowling in
Raul Julia would have turned 75 years old today. Although flashy movie roles remain his legacy, Raul honed his skills on the stage. His humanitarian edge also carries lasting effects. Here are some facts about this mysterious, Puerto Rican-American actor:
1. His first role? The Devil: Raul spoke affectionately of his role in a school play: “I remember I was like five or six years old; I played the devil. My parents thought, ‘Oh, my God, what’s wrong with him? He’s possessed or something.’ I knew there was something special about the theater for me … something beyond the regular reality, something that I could get into and transcend and become something other than myself.”
2. The roles that never were: Raul passed away in 1994. He’d already commenced filming as Bucho in Desperado (1995) and was replaced by Joaquim De Almeida. Raul was also the first pick to play Diego De la Vega, the aging Zorro of The Mask of Zorro (1998), but Anthony Hopkins popped into the role.
3. Raul’s father brought pizza to Puerto Rico: Raul’s father (also named Raul Julia) founded La Cueva del Chicken Inn in San Juan. He hired an Italian cook from New York City, which paved the way for the first pizza offerings at a Puerto Rican restaurant.
4. The leisurely pursuit of tobacco: Raul indulged his love of tobacco, which he romanticized to Cigar Aficionado: “A cigar is as good as memories that you have when you smoked it.”
5. Humanitarian pursuits: Raul functioned as a passionate spokesperson for The Hunger Project — a foundation that sought to eliminate world hunger by the year 2000 — for 17 years. He said, “There are 38,000 people dying of hunger each day and most are children. And, being a celebrity, I communicate about it as much as I can.”
6. A prominent stage actor: Raul received four nominations in the Best Actor (Musical) category for the Tony Awards (for Gentlemen of Verona, Where’s Charley?, The Threepenny Opera, and Nine). He also played Dracula on Broadway. This role paved the way for darker film roles.
7. Raul marvelled at his Addams Family notoriety: He was first recognized at a video store, and he considered it a serendipitous experience: “It was the first time someone called me by name. He asked me for my autograph. The last time I was in that same store I saw William Daniels. I was buying a laser disc of 1776 with the director’s commentary. I asked him for his autograph. He was the star of 1776 on Broadway and in the very film I was holding in my hands. Now there was a coincidence!”
8. Credit where credit is due: Raul regularly acknowledged the original Gomez, John Astin, who supported Raul’s portrayal of the character. Raul was told many times how much he and Astin physically resembled each other: “I always took it as a good sign.” Raul also credits Astin with helping him escape “those recurring cop roles.”
9. Raul jumped at the chance with work with “brilliant” actors: He considered Angelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd as the primary reasons to sign on to the Gomez Addams role. Raul also relished the chance to be “as theatrical as I want to be … he sings, he dances, he sword fights. I’ve always wanted to do those swashbuckling things. It’s one of the reasons I became an actor, to do those things, and I get to do them as Gomez.”
10: Raul’s children chose his final role: Raul received a dire stomach cancer diagnosis and asked his children to select his final role. He wanted something loud and flashy — the part of megalomaniacal General M. Bison fit the bill. Raul’s live-action portrayal of the character was perhaps undeserved by the movie. He performed with zest despite fading health. A few days before the movie was completed, Raul suffered a stroke and died in a coma. Producers dedicated the film to Raul’s memory.