14ymedio, Havana, 26 December 2022 — About the actor Alexis Díaz de Villegas, who died in Havana at the age of 56, the writer Néstor Díaz de Villegas, his uncle, said that “Alexis had existed in the tragedy and for the tragedy.” However, many Cubans identified his elongated arms, his ironic and smiling face, and his messy hair as the attributes of a comedian.
Those who thought so had not been able to forget his performance in Juan de los Muertos [Juan of the Dead], the film that earned him the sympathy of the general public in his country. It was the role of his life: a Cuban”survivor” — as the character himself would say — an everyday fighter against absurd circumstances and people who, by dint of political lobotomies, behaved like zombies.
Tired but without losing his humor, about to anchor himself forever on the Island, the character of Díaz de Villegas pronounces the phrase that, for the Cubans who repeated it again and again after his death, summed up his existence: “I survived the Mariel, I survived Angola, I survived the Special Period and the thing that came after. Just give me a machete and I’ll manage.”
Díaz de Villegas was born in Cumanayagua, Cienfuegos, and worked as a theater actor and university professor at the Higher Institute of Art. He acted in films such as Entre ciclones [Between Hurricanes], Kangamba and Larga distancia [Long Distance] as well as in the film adaptations of several novels by Leonardo Padura. The death of his son Pablo, who hung himself at age fourteen, was a hard blow for the actor.
The cancer that caused the death of Díaz de Villegas, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had already affected him a decade earlier and even during the filming of Juan de los Muertos. “He was leaving a chemotherapy session to appear before the camera, and he was convinced that this providential role saved his life,” Néstor Díaz said in a chronicle about their reunion in Havana, after several decades without seeing each other.
His uncle said that, despite the fame that the film had given Alexis and his tireless work, the actor had to be a “fighter” to get food, medicines, clothing and building materials in an increasingly poor and hostile country.
At the end of his career, Alexis Díaz de Villegas had completely returned to the theatrical universe, already consecrated as one of the most talented and influential actors of his generation. In an interview he gave to 14ymedio in 2015, he said that he only aspired to be remembered as “a man of theater.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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