Obituaries: Julian Sands, actor who shot to fame as romantic hero in A Room with a View
Julian Sands carved out a highly successful and impressively diverse Hollywood career after making a big impression as the male lead opposite Helena Bonham Carter in Merchant Ivory’s period drama A Room with a View almost 40 years ago.
But his biggest passion was climbing. He said he was happiest “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning”. And he knew full well the risks of the mountains that would eventually claim his life.
In the same interview three years ago Sands, whose roles included Superman’s father in Smallville on TV and Satan’s son in Warlock on the big screen, revealed that he had been lucky to survive in a terrible storm high in the Andes in the early 1990s when other nearby climbers perished.
And in one of the most recent interviews before his disappearance on a solo hike in bad weather in mountains in California in January, Sands spoke of how “chilling” it was to come across human remains at altitude.
With the passing years, former climbing buddies retired from the pursuit and increasingly Sands went out alone, while at the same time acknowledging it was becoming more dangerous, with rockfaces unstable with climate change. It would be six months after his disappearance before his remains were found in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Julian Richard Morley Sands was born in Otley, Yorkshire, in 1958, the fourth of five sons of Billy Sands, who analysed soil for a living, and his wife Brenda, a secretary and Conservative councillor. His parents divorced when he was three.
“My family were agricultural, not theatrical people,” he said. “My childhood was like something out of Swallows and Amazons, we climbed trees and scrabbled in mud and streams. I did love acting in the village pantos though.”
He won a scholarship to Lord Wandsworth College in Hampshire, studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and acted and directed in theatre before gradually building a career in films and television.
He was director Derek Jarman’s assistant on the videos for Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 album Broken English. But when David Bowie failed to turn up to play the devil Sands was asked to step in front of the cameras in his place.
In the first half of the 1980s Sands had small roles in the comedy Privates on Parade, with John Cleese, and the rowing drama Oxford Blues, with Rob Lowe, before playing real-life journalist Jon Swain in the Oscar-winning drama The Killing Fields and getting his breakthrough lead role as the romantic and impetuous George Emerson in A Room with a View.
With his long blond hair and sculpted features, Sands made for a dashing romantic lead, though he was to prove extremely versatile, especially after director Steve Miner decided to switch the roles of his two nominated lead actors in Warlock, making Richard E Grant the goodie and giving the role of the son of Satan to Sands.
He played Shelley in Ken Russell’s Gothic, an entomologist in the big-budget adventure Arachnophobia, composer Franz Liszt in Impromptu, a giant centipede passing itself of as human in the film of William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and a surgeon who amputates all four limbs of the woman with whom he is infatuated in Boxing Helena, a singularly unpleasant film from David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Lynch.
More recently lead parts began to dry up and Sands had supporting roles in Ocean’s Thirteen and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and he worked regularly in television, playing the Russian villain in the fifth series of 24 and Superman’s dad Jor-El in Smallville.
He also did a lot of voice work, including playing Johnny Weissmuller on Radio 4’s 2018 dramatisation of Me, Cheeta, the supposed autobiography of Tarzan’s chimpanzee companion, for which Sands had to perfect the Tarzan yell.
More than 30 years earlier Sands had actually been the original choice to play Tarzan in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, but production delays led to it being recast with Christopher Lambert.
At Sands’ suggestion John Malkovich played Cheeta in the radio adaptation. They first worked together on The Killing Fields and became close friends. Malkovich also directed Sands in the role of Harold Pinter in a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 and introduced Sands to his second wife Evgenia Citkowitz, a writer, model and Guinness heiress. They married in 1990.
His first wife was Sarah Sands, née Harvey. They married in 1984, though the marriage was short-lived, with Julian Sands relocating to the US. His wife, now styling herself Sarah Sands, remained in the UK, and later served as editor of the Sunday Telegraph, the Evening Standard and Radio 4’s Today programme.
Sands is is survived by Evgenia, two children from his second marriage and one from his first.
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