José Wilker (pictured), one of Brazil's most acclaimed actors, died today at the age of 66 of a heart attack in Rio de Janeiro. Known internationally for his work in Bruno Barreto's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976) and Carlos Diegues' Bye Bye Brazil (1979), he worked in over 50 films between 1965 and 2013. He also worked in numerous soap operas and mini series both as an actor and director, and was a film critic.
Born José Wilker of Almeida on August 20, 1947 in Juazeiro do Norte in northeastern Brazil. He started his professional as a radio announcer in his home town. He moved to Recife with his family where he worked as a member of the Movimiento de Cultura Popular (MCP), an active political theater group, which was banned during the military represation. In 1967 he moved to Rio de Janeiro to pursue a degree in Sociology, which he shortly abandoned for acting.
His first participation in film was in 1965 in Leo Hirzman's drama The Deceased / A Falecida (co-written by the recently deceased filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho) which starred Fernando Montenegro. In 1976 he worked with Diegues in the epic film Xica da Silva, starring Zezé Motta, where he played the role of the Count of Valadares.
That same year he was cast as Vadinho, one of Dona Flor's husbands in Barretto's acclaimed debut feature (pictured right) which was an international hit landing an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Three years later he worked again with Diegues in the critically acclaimed Bye Bye Brazil (pictured below left), which had its world premiere as part of Cannes' official competition, playing the role of Lorde Cigano.
In 1992 he participated in the American production Medicine Man by John McTiernan and starring Sean Connery and Lorraine Branco. More recent film credits include The Battle of Canudos / Guerra de Canudos (1997) by Sérgio Rezende, O Homem do Ano / The Man of the Year (2003) by José Henrique Fonseca, Redeemer / Rendetor (2004) by Cláudio Torres. His last participation in film was last year in the sequel comedy film Casa de Mãe Joana 2 by Hugo Carvana.
Combining his acting roles in film he worked in television soap operas for decades, where he was equally successful. His star role as Roque Santeiro in the soap opera of the same name was perhaps his most internationally known television work. Wilker was also president of the public-funded distribution company RioFilme, and also worked as a film critic with a weekly column in a publication and he was a recurrent film commentator in television.
Watch the original trailer for Bye Bye Brazil: