Carlos José Sánchez Jaramillo, the actor most famously known for playing Juan Valdez, has passed away at age 83. The New York Times reports that the Colombian actor and painter died on December 29th in Medellín.
Confirmed in an email from the Colombia's National Federation of Coffee Growers, Sánchez's death comes some 12 years after his retirement from the role of Juan Valdez, a character he donned for almost 40 years. As the NYT notes, the Valdez character—and by extention Sánchez—was “an indefatigable farmer with a warm expression, a lush mustache and a mule named Conchita” that “became an avatar for the farmers who harvested Colombia’s coffee beans and a positive depiction of a country that was often equated with terrorism and drug trafficking.”
“I presented the image of the Colombian coffee grower, an honest man, hard-working, traditional,” Mr. Sánchez told The New York Times in 2001. “Juan Valdez would get up early, pick coffee, and what happened in time is the character became mythologized.”
The character took home multiple advertising awards and was the mascot for multiple cafes in America named after him, according to the article. It was a role that Sánchez defined, and after 36 years playing him, Valdez became part of Sánchez as well. He described the idea of losing the role—which became a very real possibility when coffee prices dropped in the late 90s—as akin to losing a limb.
“I feel like a flag,” he said at a news conference. “I feel like I’ve represented the country.”
Carlos Sánchez is survived by his wife and two children. Though his spirit lives on through actor Carlos Castañeda, who assumed the icon role back in 2006, there will never truly be another Juan Valdez.
Top image via the New York Times