In Memoriam: José José on the Big Screen


Legendary Mexican singer and music icon José José died yesterday at age of 71 in Florida; he had been battling pancreatic cancer in the last few years. In addition to his rich music legacy, the artist née José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz also had a small but fruitful career as an actor in Mexican popular cinema.

Born February 17, 1948 in Mexico City, José José made his film debut with a very small role in the 1969 drama Paula, directed and acted by Abel Salazar and also starring Julissa, and José Alonso. As his music career was starting to take off, he was offered this role in a film about a young woman falling for an older man.


By the early seventies, after the had released the song "La nave del olvido" which became his first big hit in Mexico and the Americas, José José was offered his first starring role in the 1972 romantic comedy Buscando una sonrisa / Looking for a Smile, directed by Rubén Galindo and co-starring Nadia Milton. The release of the film coincided with the debut of the artist’s fourth album of the same name, containing songs from the movie.

In Buscando una sonrisa, José José plays the role of José, who is a draftsman by profession and engineer intern. He is bowling with his friend Rubén when he is suddenly told that his mother has suffered an accident and has died. At the end of the burial, he’s flooded with memories and returns to the time when, while he was in Acapulco with his friends, he met the beautiful Carla.


He was offered his second leading role in Galindo’s 1972 drama Un sueño de amor, co-starring Verónica Castro and Sasha Montenegro. José José plays the role of David, a tormented young man who falls in love with the beautiful Karis (Castro) without knowing that she is blind, which is why she initially resists his affectionate advances but finally accepts and marries him. However, shortly after the wedding, the reason for David's permanent anguish is revealed: He is still in love with Graciela (Montenegro), a secret lover from his past who drowned. David still cannot forget this tragic love and those traumatic memories and thoughts do not let him be happy with who is now his wife, and he’s forced to make an ultimate decision.


José José was directed for a third time by Galindo in the 1974 comedy La carrera del millón / The Million Dollar Race, also starring Fernando Luján and Nubia Martí. In the film, two millionaire brothers make a bet when they compete in a car race: the winner of the rally (one of them played by José José) will marry their niece.


In the eighties, he participated in a couple of musical films where he appeared as himself singing some of his songs: the 1980 Argentine film La discoteca del amor / The Disco of Love, directed by Adolfo Aristarain, starring Ricardo Darín, Cacho Castaña, and Mónica Gonzaga; and the 1984 Mexican movie Siempre en Domingo / Always on Sunday, by René Cardona Jr., named after the popular weekly variety show by Raúl Velasco.


His three most iconic films are his 1985 autobiographic Gavilán o Paloma / Hawk or Dove, directed by Alfredo Gurrola and named after one the singer’s greatest songs; the 1988 biopic Sabor a mi by René Cardona Jr.; and the 1995 drama Perdóname todo / Forgive me All, directed by Raúl Araiza.

Starring Christian Bach, Gina Romand, and Jorge Ortiz de Pinedo, Gavilán o Paloma chronicles the rise of the Mexican music icon from his humble beginnings in Mexico City to his international superstardom. José José plays himself, a singer born into a Mexican family of talented musicians. His father was an alcoholic operatic tenor and his mother was a pianist. José begins his career playing in serenades and in a jazz trio. He starts a relationship with Anel (Bach), a beautiful young actress, but because of his alcoholism and infidelities, she leaves him.

José marries Kiki Herrera (Romand), a beautiful socialite twenty years older than him, but after several fights and irreconcilable differences, he leaves her. After he suffers terrible pneumonia that nearly ends his career, Anel returns to his side and he recovers. After a couple of years without success, José signs a contract with a major record label and returns to the pinnacle of success.


The success of Gavilán o Paloma was followed by Sabor a mi, the biopic of Mexican singer-composer Álvaro Carrillo. José José plays the lead role of an engineering student who abandons his studies to pursue his dream of being a singer, but who before being recognized dies in an accident. The cast included Jorge Ortiz de Pinedo, Carmen Salinas, Angélica Aragón, and Gustavo Rojo, among others.


José José’s last starring role was in Perdónamelo todo, a movie with similarities to his own life. He plays the role of Ricardo Alfaro, an alcoholic composer who falls in love with Alejandra Montes (played by Alejandra Ávalos), who is his interpreter; she helps him to stop drinking, but when fame comes everything changes and he returns to his vices. The film, also featuring Arturo Beristain, Sergio Jiménez and Claudio Brook, was José José’s most successful movie at the box office.


His last cinematic participation was in the 2005 American dramedy Sueño, directed by Renee Chabria and starring John Leguizamo, Ana Claudia Talancón, and Elizabeth Peña, in which José José has a performance cameo. More recently, José José’s songs were included in the soundtracks of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018) and the 2017 comedy How to Be a Latin Lover.