Actor & Screenwriter Max Julien Has Passed Away

Following a 2021 marred by losses, 2022 began with news of another legend passing away. Actor Max Julien passed away at the age of 88 in Sherman Oaks, California, yesterday (January 1). No cause of death has been determined at this time. His wife of 30 years, Arabella, confirmed the event with The Hollywood Reporter.

Julien may be best remembered for playing the title role in 1973’s Goldie. The Michael Campus-directed film, which co-starred Richard Pryor and previous Oscar-nominee Juanita Moore, follows an ex-con who seeks a new life as a pimp in Oakland, California. The independent film’s dialogue, Willie Hutch’s soundtrack, and fashion have become iconic. Its script’s first draft was written in prison by then-San Quentin inmate Robert J. Poole. However, Julien and Pryor were reportedly instrumental in script revisions made during filming. Shot on location in Oakland, film producers reportedly made a series of agreements with the Black Panther Party, including proceeds going towards the free-breakfast program.

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Before The Mack, Julien’s acting career stems from the 1950s. A native of Washington, D.C., he graduated from his hometown’s Howard University and was a member of the Xi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. Max worked in theater after graduation, including roles with New York City’s Shakespeare In The Park program. He then appeared in grindhouse features like 1966’s The Black Klansman as well as televisions Mod Squad before working opposite Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford in Psych Out and Getting Straight, respectively.

The same year he starred in Goldie, Max Julien’s script for Cleopatra Jones was made into a film starring Bernie Casey, Tamara Dobson, and Esther Rolle. In 1974, he starred in Gordon Parks, Jr’s Thomasine & Bushrod—another script he penned.

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It is The Mack that remains Julien’s most enduring work. By the 1990s, Hip-Hop stars including LL Cool J, Too Short, and Big Daddy Kane used elements of the film in their music. As the decade advanced, the film’s aesthetic became focal to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle debut, which referenced it in “Pump, Pump.” Max Julien was among the famed 1970s Black actors hired for Snoop’s “Doggy Dogg World” music video. Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, Mobb Deep, Kris Kross, and others incorporated elements of the film. The word “Mack” gained a second life as Sir Mix-A-Lot and a British rapper Mark Morrison helped usher it to the mainstream. With The Mack coming back into vogue, Max Julien accepted a 1997 role in Def Jam’s How To Be A Player. He also worked with real-life pimp-turned-rapper Suga Free in the DJ Quik-produced “Thinkin'” music video.

Meanwhile, the nephew of original score composer Willie Hutch is Cold187um (aka Big Hutch) of Above The Law. Hutch’s acclaimed soundtrack spawned hits such as UGK and OutKast’s “International Player’s Anthem,” as well as songs by Masta Ace, Three 6 Mafia, and Usher.

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In 1981, Max Julien spoke candidly about the role of films like The Mack in saving the movie business at a challenging time commercially. “1971, Hollywood was dying, looking for subsidization from the government, and suddenly somebody came along, God bless him, called Melvin Van Peebles. Okay? He did a film—and whatever you might think of it—called Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and it turned this entire industry around.” The actor-writer continued, “And suddenly they said: ‘Wow, there are Black people out there who go and see movies!’ Like we hadn’t been going all the time, right? And suddenly Black films were being made and made and made and made, and nobody’s giving credit to the fact that those films literally saved Hollywood.”

Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to Max Julien’s family, friends, and fans.