• Film

Mexico Pays Tribute to its Greatest Actor, Ignacio López Tarso (1925-2023)

Film, television and theater actor. An actor’s actor. Ignacio López Tarso (1925-2023) passed away on March 11, closing an important chapter in the art of acting in Mexico.

Since López Tarso’s death, due to pneumonia and intestinal obstruction, Mexico’s actors’ union, ANDA, together with the Mexican government and his family, decided to pay two posthumous tributes.

Last March 12, the legendary Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City awaited the body of the man born in that city where he started his career at the age of 24 when he entered the Academy of Dramatic Arts. He debuted in a play by William Shakespeare. His stage career grew to include over a hundred plays. He received the 2006 Gold Medal for Fine Arts.

With his tribute at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, López Tarso joined a select group of renowned artists, including Silvia Pinal, Mario Moreno “Cantinflas,” Carmen Montejo, María Félix, Joaquín Cordero, Pedro Armendariz Jr. and the singers José José and Juan Gabriel, whose coffins were placed in the main lobby. López Tarso was honored by politicians, artistic union members, family, friends and fans of the actor who began in 1951.

A second tribute to López Tarso took place on March 13 at the San Jerónimo Independencia Theater, one of the actor’s favorite venues. The ceremony began with the rise of the curtain to display the coffin of the actor, surrounded by flowers, as a tribute to an actor who became a point of reference to many artists for generations.

“If there was a warrior, that was López Tarso! All this is very emotional for me. I thank everyone for your presence,” said Juan Ignacio Aranda, the actor’s son, and brother of Susana and Gabriela, at the start of the event, the newspaper El Excelsior reported.

The tributes to López Tarso concluded on Monday. The remains of the actor, father, grandfather and great-grandfather were cremated and inurned March 14, next to the urn containing the ashes of his wife, Clara Aranda López, with whom he was married for 50 years and who passed away in 2000.


The legacy of López Tarso

Winner in 2007 of the Golden Ariel, the highest honor of the Academy of Cinematographic Arts of Sciences of Mexico, for his career in acting, López Tarso had two Ariel nominations for best actor for El Profeta Mimi (1973) and Rapiña (1975), and won one for Rosa Blanca (1961).

Barely three years after graduating from the theater academy, López Tarso made his debut in Chanu Ureta’s La desconocida (1954), where he had a minor role that made him find no sense in making movies. He even joked that his passing on the screen had been unknown.

Fortunately, three years later, the Spanish Luis Buñuel called him to be part of his cast in Nazarín (1959) with the character of El Sacrilegio.

Also in 1959, López Tarso was part of La Cucaracha by Ismael Rodríguez, the classic about the Revolution War with María Félix. But it was in 1960 when the world learned about the talent range of this character actor, with the premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival of Macario, a film nominated for the Palme d’Or and months later for the Academy Award for best foreign language film (the first time Mexico’s entry was nominated in the category).

In Macario, López Tarso plays the main character as the husband of actress Pina Pellicer. Both play a peasant couple with several children amid a time of famine.

Director Roberto Gavaldón was inspired by Bruno Traven’s story, “The Third Guest,” inspired in turn by his admiration of Mexican customs, including the Day of the Dead observance, to create a story about a man who, after savoring a feast with a cooked turkey from his wife, decides to share it with Death, gratefully receiving the gift of healing the sick.

The film, considered one of the 10 all-time best in Mexico, culminates in a cave where the protagonist sees his life candle die out.


In El Hombre de Papel (1964), the film further displays López Tarso’s ability to build memorable characters. He plays a homeless man with low intellectual capacity who finds a 10,000 peso bill on the street and buys a ventriloquist doll that he believes is a real boy.

The film earned actress Alida Valli a Golden Globe nomination while López Tarso received the Golden Gate Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Also by Gavaldón is Mar de Otoño (winner of the Mar de Plata Festival best film in Spanish in 1964) which brought together López Tarso and Pina Pellicer again in a story based on the literary classic by Emilio Carballido.

López Tarso stayed in the Mexican imagination when he played Fulgor Sedano on the screen in the adaptation of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo (1967), Mexico’s greatest literary work. López Tarso also portrayed the legendary children’s composer Francisco Gavilondo Soler in the film biopic, Cri Cri el grillito cantor (1963).

With a distinctive voice that narrated various Mexican historical passages on radio and television, López Tarso always made the theater his second home, transcending in works such as “El Vestidor” by Ronald Harwood, alongside actor Héctor Bonilla. Together, they became allies who toured city to city on the Mexican map, making new generations love the theater.

Humor and music were also part of the versatile actor, having been in musicals like Qué tal Dolly? Among the last productions he worked in, where he performed with actors of all ages, was the staging of “12 hombres en pugna” (“12 Fighting Men”) which caused a stir among critics and the public.

The list of the more than 60 films in which López Tarso appeared included Tarahumara (1965) by Luis Alcoriza, La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (1970) and El gallo de oro (1964), all of them by Gavaldón, and Tirano Banderas (1993) by José Luis García Sánchez, winner of six Goya awards.

His appearance in Los albañiles (1976) made him part of the films referenced by national critics as the best made in Mexico. He played the character Dr. Vigil in the Golden Globe-nominated film, Under the Volcano (1984), directed by John Huston.

An actor of international stature in every way, it was up to López Tarso to bring his star halo from the big screen to television,. He always represented a figure of respect in the soap opera melodramas that made Televisa a powerful company in Latin America. He was part of the 164 episodes of Senda de gloria (1987), considered the starting point of historical blockbusters on Mexican television.

Between 2007 and 2009, López Tarso played General Porfirio Ayala in El pantera, one of the first serial productions in which he moved away from soap operas.

A tireless actor who took the time to be a deputy of the Congress of the Union in Mexico, López Tarso was a figure of fatherly presence on all kinds of stages and before all kinds of cameras. He always supported new talents like Guadalajara animator Karla Castaneda for whom he voiced the stop-motion animated main character in the Ariel Award-winning La Noria (2012).

Just as his Macario did in the cinema, López Tarso always brought with him the presence of something beyond the mundane, someone who, for an instant, peered into the cave of Mexican mysticism and returned to tell it in an array of characters who are transformed into a row of candles that will never go out.

Translated by Mario Amaya