HE WAS GAUNT AND CLEARLY ILL when he shot the HBO movie The Burning Season last spring in Mexico. But Raul Julia, playing the martyred Brazilian labor leader Chico Mendes, never complained. “We’d be sitting on the beach,” says costar Sonia Braga, “and he’d be talking to everybody, telling jokes and singing songs.”
Julia, 54, who had been battling cancer, died on Oct. 24 in a Long Island, N.Y., hospital after suffering a massive stroke. Perhaps best known as Gomez, the smoldering patriarch of the Addams Family movies, Julia was an actor of extraordinary range. A strapping 6’2″, with heavy-lidded brown eyes that radiated sensuality and a resonant voice that carried traces of his native Puerto Rico, he moved easily among leading roles in Broadway musicals (Man of La Mancha, The Threepenny Opera), Shakespeare (Othello, The Taming of the Shrew) and films (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Presumed Innocent). He even played a rumpled, diminutive Aristotle Onassis in the 1988 TV miniseries The Richest Man in the World.
Born Raúl Rafael Carlos Juliá y Arcelay in San Juan to a restaurateur and his homemaker wife, Julia moved to Manhattan at 22 but had difficulty landing parts until producer Joseph Papp took him under his wing at the New York Shakespeare Festival. He earned the first of four Tony nominations in Papp’s musical version of Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona in 1971, the same year he appeared on Sesame Street as Rafael the Fixit Man.
Julia, who had been married previously, wed dancer Merel Poloway in 1976. They had two sons, Raul Sigmund, 11, and Benjamin Rafael, 7. “Raul’s family,” says good friend Edward James Olmos, “filled his heart.”