Juan Diego, immense and recalcitrant ‘red’ actor, dies | Culture

The actor Juan Diego Ruiz Moreno, popularly known as Juan Diego, has died this Thursday at the age of 79. The interpreter, perhaps the only one who was well known only by his first name, has been essential for Spanish theater and cinema for the last six decades. He also for the anti-fascist struggle of those hard years of late Francoism, although neither in the Transition nor since the eighties did he abandon his political activity in favor of different movements of the Spanish left, from which he never left. Family and close friends are watching over him this Thursday at the San Isidro Funeral Home and tomorrow, Friday, the funeral chapel will be installed at the Spanish Theater in Madrid from half past ten in the morning until two in the afternoon.

Protagonist of emblematic titles of Spanish cinema such as The Holy Innocents, The Seventh Day, Dragon Rapide, Paris-Timbuktu either You’re the One, In addition to accumulating a long career in the theater, he had suffered various ailments in recent years, some of them a consequence of the severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that he suffered from for some time. A few days ago he was hospitalized at the Zarzuela Clinic in Madrid, where he died this morning. Born in the Sevillian town of Bormujos de Aljarafe in 1942, where three days of mourning have been decreed, he had two children, Adán and Diego, with Paca Villalba and Clara Sanchis Mira, respectively.

Juan Diego began his career in the theater, where he made his debut in 1957. In his early years he participated in various Spanish television programs and numerous dramatic productions of the well-remembered Study 1, which gave him popularity and prestige. At that time he was actively involved in trade union and anti-Franco movements. In 1984 he was chosen by director Mario Camus to star in the film version of the innocent saints, which was the great leap in his film career. The following outstanding works of hers on the big screen would be the journey to nowhere (1986), by Fernando Fernán Gómez; Dragon Rapide (1986), by Jaime Camino, in which he played Franco; The dark night (1989), by Carlos Saura, or the stunned king (1991), by Imanol Uribe, which earned him the Goya for best supporting actor. In total he won three: another cast for Paris-Timbuktu (1993), by Luis García Berlanga, and another one as the protagonist of go away from me (2006), by Víctor García León, one of the many young people in their twenties that the actor supported with his presence in his films.

From left, Terele Pávez, Mario Camus, Juan Diego, Alfredo Landa and Francisco Rabal, at the presentation of ‘The Holy Innocents’ at the Cannes festival in 1984.eric gaillard (afp)

Paloma de Juanes and Marta Simón, representatives and friends of the actor, have highlighted after learning of his death that above all he was a “generous and immense” person. He “he liked to bet on young talent in both feature films and short films. He did not hesitate to put himself under the orders of Chema Rodríguez in the long nightfall in india (2014) or by Lino Escalera in I don’t know how to say goodbye (2017), nor of the actor Secun de la Rosa in his directorial debut with the cover (2021). In the short, she starred in works with Alexis Morante (Matador on the Road) and Felix Fernandez de Castro (Zebra)”, they point out She also participated in Venus, First film by Víctor Conde, pending premiere.

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In parallel, more intensely in his early years, he continued his career in the theater. In 1980 she participated in the premiere of petra gifted, by Antonio Galla. In 1981 she starred in the stage version of the novel The kiss of spider women, by Manuel Puig, directed by José Luis García Sánchez, his great friend throughout a lifetime and through a thousand professional and political battles, with whom he worked on almost all of his films. It was in that play where Juan Diego, who like many atheists was superstitious, turned the tradition that yellow is jinx for theatergoers on its head. At one point in the performance, the actor had to use a lighter and it turns out that one day a prop man put one in his pocket, which turned out to be yellow, unaware of the effect it could have on the performer. When the time came to take it out, Juan Diego was horrified to see the color, but that was the day the entire audience gave him a standing ovation and the show, which had not gone well in its first days, became a great success. . Juan Diego attributed it to the color of the lighter and never again stepped on a stage without something yellow, and even painted a large part of his house yellow at the time to attract luck, which he did not achieve because his partner at that time left him and left with a lot of yellow furniture. He was also a loved man and that he loved. Especially well-known was his relationship with Concha Velasco, who received the news of the death of her friend with great sadness.

Carlos Saura and Juan Diego, dressed for their role in 'The Colonel has no one to write to him', which was his last work in the theatre.
Carlos Saura and Juan Diego, dressed for their role in ‘The Colonel has no one to write to him’, which was his last work in the theatre.Sergio Parra

In the 1990s he continued to perform on stage and, among other jobs, made an impact playing the writer Charles Bukowski in the play There’s no way to paradise, baby directed by Jesús Cracio. In 1999 he premiered The reader for hours, by José Sanchis Sinisterra, together with Clara Sanchis, the author’s daughter and with whom he met more times. In 2012 he took to the stage the monologue mother tongue, by Juan Jose Millas. Shortly before he had approached The cat on the tin roof Y Richard III. His last work in the theater was the premiere in Huesca in 2019 of the adaptation of The colonel has no one to write to him, by Gabriel García Márquez, directed by Carlos Saura. He only participated in the first functions of that production, since his health problems prevented him from continuing with the tour and he was replaced by Imanol Arias. It was precisely Carlos Saura who chose him for one of the actor’s greatest film works, although it never had a special impact, something that Juan Diego himself did not understand very well, since he himself considered that interpretation to be one of the most important and impressive. of their life: The dark night, based on the life and death of Saint John of the Cross, whose literature Juan Diego especially liked, who was an avid and exquisite reader.

The news of his death has caused numerous reactions this Thursday in the media and social networks. The actor Juan Echanove, deeply moved by Cadena SER, has defined him as “the best”. “It was dignity, profession, responsibility, solidarity. That is what it has meant for the culture of this country.” It so happens that those closest to Juan Diego called Echanove “Juanito de Circuitos Diego”, which was how they jokingly described the young actors whom Juan Diego clothed and introduced to his colleagues in his beginnings.

The one who has not wanted to say anything because he affirms that obituaries are only interesting when you do not know the deceased person is José Luis García Sánchez. It was not the case, of course. He has only stammered: “Azcona already said it, death is a bastard.”

Aisge, the entity that manages the intellectual property rights of artists in Spain, has published a tweet in which it states: “How sad to say goodbye to you, dearest Juan Diego. Partner, teacher, comrade, friend. An example of humble nobility, a highly cultured man who knew how to do himself when the circumstances were less favorable. He flies high, he flies free. All our love.”

The Minister of Culture and Sports, Miquel Iceta, said when he heard the news: “May the earth be light for him, may his loved ones find comfort in memory and may we forever celebrate his life and work.” Minister Ione Belarra has stated that she is “shocked by the sad news”: “A fantastic actor and a committed and good person who we will always remember with great affection”. The president of the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page, has recalled some words of the deceased actor as a tribute: “Culture, knowledge and words are essential in the development of a country, we must bring them closer and use them as a weapon.