For nearly four decades, Carlos Sánchez Jaramillo embodied Juan Valdez, a fictional character created to help sell coffee and paint Colombia, a country often unfairly described through drugs and violence, in a positive light. In late December, the actor and ambassador of Colombian coffee died at the age of 83.
Having grown coffee in his youth in Colombia, Sánchez – born in 1935 in Fredonia – seemed like a natural fit to take on the role from Jose F. Duval, a Cuban actor who portrayed the character – created by New York ad agency Doyle Bernbach – for the first 10 years. Sánchez became Juan Valdez in 1969, and with a wide-brimmed hat, magnificent mustache, and accompanied by Conchita the mule in commercials, he represented coffee growers across the South American country.
“I presented the image of the Colombian coffee grower, an honest man, hard-working, traditional,” he told The New York Times in 2001. “Juan Valdez would get up early, pick coffee, and what happened in time is the character became mythologized.”
In the late 1990s, as the coffee industry struggled, there were fewer ads featuring Juan Valdez, putting the character’s future in limbo. But Juan Valdez still exists. Since 2006, Carlos Castañeda has taken on the role.
Sánchez went to the University of Antioquia before enrolling in a theater school at age 25. He appeared as Juan Valdez in Bruce Almighty. He is survived by his wife and two sons.