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Joaquin Martinez, a veteran actor best known for his performance as the Indian character Paints His Shirt Red in Sydney Pollack’s 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson, died Jan. 3 after a brief struggle with pancreatic cancer at his home in Everdingen, the Netherlands. He was 81.
A native of Cozumel, Mexico, Martinez also played the Apache leader in Ulzana’s Raid (1972), which also starred Burt Lancaster. In its portrayal of the violent reaction by Apaches in the face of the destruction of their culture by European expansion of the North American West, Robert Aldrich’s film was seen as a revisionist tale that was commenting on the Vietnam War as well.
During his 40-year career, Martinez also worked with Bill Cosby on The Bill Cosby Show and appeared in such TV Westerns as The High Chaparral, Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Alias Smith & Jones; the telefilms Ishi: The Last of His Tribe and Stones for Ibarra; the miniseries How the West Was Won; and the crime series Quincy, M.E.
His other film credits include The House of the Spirits (1993), directed by Bille August, and Tony Scott’s Revenge (1990), in which he appeared alongside fellow Mexico native Anthony Quinn, fulfilling a lifelong goal.
In 2002, director Lee Tamahori cast Martinez in the James Bond film Die Another Day, based on his admiration for Martinez’ performance in Ulzana’s Raid. His last film role was in the Netherlands-based thriller Castingx (2005); he semi-retired to Europe about nine years ago.
In Jeremiah Johnson, set in the West soon after the Mexican War, Martinez’s character has run-ins with Robert Redford’s mountain-man character throughout the film, but the two make peace in an emotional, wordless encounter in the final scene.
His son, Christopher, said his father worked his entire career to break apart the stereotypical roles often offered to Latino actors in Hollywood by adding to and reworking them, though it was a constant struggle.
Joaquin Martinez, born Nov. 5, 1930, in Cozumel, Mexico, studied method acting with renowned teacher Seki Sano and came to prominence in Pedro Paramo, a Mexican drama that premiered in 1967 at the Cannes Film Festival. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Hollywood.
On stage, Martinez was an original cast member of the musical drama Zoot Suit, written by Luis Valdez, which shattered live-theater box-office records when it premiered in Los Angeles in July 1978. A decade later, he appeared with Christopher Reeve and Christine Lahti in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke at the Ahmanson.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife Marja Valkestijn, daughter Jennifer, stepson Sjoerd and former wife Mary Preston. The family asks that any contributions be made in his memory to the children’s literacy program at SAG.
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