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Cuban-American Actor Tomas Milian, Italian Genre Movies Star, Dies at 84

Milian played the corrupt general in Soderbergh's 'Traffic'

ROME – Versatile Cuban-American-Italian actor Tomas Milian, known for the intensity he brought to disparate roles, whether in dramas by directors like Bernardo Bertolucci and Steven Soderbergh or as the Roman lowlife character that made him a household name in Italy, died Thursday. He was 84.

Milian died of a stroke in his Miami home, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

A Method actor who studied with Lee Strasberg, Milian played in about 120 movies during a career spanning six decades. Most of the films were shot in Italy, where he worked with directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini besides acting in Spaghetti Westerns, cop movies, and the franchise based on his Roman lowlife character “Er Monnezza” (“Mr. Trash”).

Later in his career, Milian moved to the U.S. where, among other films, he appeared in Sydney Pollack’s “Havana,” in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad,” and played corrupt General Arturo Salazar in Soderbergh’s “Traffic,” a role for which he won a Screen Actors Guild Award, with the rest of the ensemble cast.

Born Tomas Quintin Rodriguez on March 3, 1933, in Havana, Milian was the son of a Cuban general who during the revolution was arrested and jailed, which prompted Milian to emigrate to New York, where he studied at the Actors Studio and became a U.S. citizen.

While working on Broadway, Milian was invited in 1958 to attend the Spoleto theatre festival and moved to Italy after being offered the part of a young Roman in Mauro Bolognini’s “The Big Night” (1959), which was based on a short story by Pasolini.

After landing more supporting roles in other Bolognini movies and in dramas by other Italian auteurs, Milian broke out as a Spaghetti Western star in pics including Sergio Sollima’s “The Big Gundown,” (1966) and Giulio Petroni’s “Tepepa” (1969), in which Orson Welles also starred. He transitioned during the mid-1970s to Italy’s so-called “poliziottesco” films – violent cop movies – most notably playing Roman police Inspector Nico Giraldi, a former thief, in the  Bruno Corbucci-directed “Nico Giraldi” franchise.

Later, Milian landed his first role in Umberto Lenzi’s hit series of “Er Monnezza” action comedies, which ran from 1976 to 1980 and made his popularity soar in Italy. Milian became an Italian citizen in 1969.

Though Milian’s distinctive Roman accent was mostly the voice of dubber Ferruccio Amendola, he always preferred to perform in Italian and often wrote his own Roman vernacular lines.

In 1980, he was awarded a Silver Ribbon by Italy’s national film journalists association for his supporting role in Bertolucci’s “La Luna.” He appeared in Antonioni’s “Identification of a Woman” in 1982.

After moving back to New York in the mid-’80s, Milian had an active career as a supporting actor, including in Abel Ferrara’s erotic thriller “Cat Chaser” (1989), Oliver Stone’s “JFK” (1991), and the 1992 CBS sitcom “Frannie’s Turn,” which bombed. His more recent roles include a prelate in “The Lost City” (2005), set during revolutionary Cuba, directed by Andy Garcia.

In 2014, Milian was given a lifetime achievement award by the Rome Film Festival.

He is survived by a son, actor Tomaso Milian, Jr.

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