Johnny Delgado (1948-2009)
Juan Marasigan Feleo, more popularly known as Johnny Delgado, passed away on November 19, 2009. He is a hardworking actor, keeping himself preoccupied with his art even as he is battling lymphoma. The actor's last work is with the thesis film of his youngest daughter Ina Feleo (who has also proven to be a brilliant actress, giving colorful and restrained performances in Jade Castro's Endo (2007) and Milo Sogueco's Sanglaan (The Pawnshop, 2009)) entitled Labing-Labing (You and I, 2009). Labing-Labing is a modest yet heartfelt ode to her parents' relationship with each other. You can readily observe the physical manifestations of the advanced stage of Delgado's cancer, as his skin is considerably paler, his head is completely devoid of hair, and his gestures are lacking the usual physical exuberance the actor is known for. Despite that, Delgado gives an outstanding performance, showcasing an impressively articulate grasp of both comedy and drama. Delgado's wife, Laurice Guillen, who is both a magnificent actress and a very talented director, gives a magnanimous and understated performance, complimenting Delgado's joviality in the face of the fearsome disease with contemplative restraint, as if her character is shouldering all the pains and worries (the unresponsive daughter, the regular visits to the hospital) to allow her husband the benefit of normalcy (a performing libido, certain vices).
A vastly gifted character actor, Delgado has played various characters throughout his career, all of whom he has given individual lives to separate and distinct from who he is as a person. His Macario, the domineering husband to Gina Alajar's tormented provincial wife in Laurice Guillen's Salome (1981) is a fearsome monster, a character created from the suffocating patriarchal society. Delgado, however, opens cracks of humanity and vulnerability to the seemingly impenetrable exterior of Macario, and from there, we are advised of a connection to the character. As one of the rapists in Lino Brocka's revenge thriller Angela Markado (Angela the Marked One, 1980), Delgado is unrelenting and horrific, unwavering in representing the unapologetic excesses of a male-dominated society. In Mike de Leon's Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (Will Your Heart Beat Faster?, 1980), he decidedly turns a character fashioned from stereotype into a comic artifact, convincingly inflicting into the character of the grandmaster of a Japanese smuggling group with as much ridiculousness and absurdness. With his daunting frame and his expressive face, Delgado is best suited to be the quintessential macho man, portraying cruel husbands, sexual predators, crime bosses, and strict fathers with much ease and efficiency.
Gifted with both Delgado the innate physical attributes of an actor and talent, it is not surprising that he has acted for the Philippines' best filmmakers: Banaue (1975) for Gerry de Leon; Aguila (Eagle, 1980) for Eddie Romero, Init (Heat, 1979), Jaguar (1979) and Angela Markado for Lino Brocka; Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Alpha Kappa Omega Batch '81 (1982), and Aliwan Paradise (1992) for Mike De Leon, Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (The Legend of Julian Makabayan, 1979) for Celso Ad. Castillo; Brutal (1980) and Baby Tsina (1984) for Marilou Diaz-Abaya; Salome (1981), Tanging Yaman (A Change of Heart, 2000), and Santa-Santita (2004) for Guillen; and Balweg (1986) for Tikoy Aguiluz and Butch Perez. However, unfortunate as it may seem, Delgado is most popular for the roles he portrayed in the many recent blockbusters. Despite the lack of cinematic depth of these features, Delgado would often make most of the role, infusing an undeniable dramatic energy, an indefensible comic timing, or an integral fearsomeness to turn these meager features into watchable showcases of acting prowess. His serial killer in Cesar Montano's lackluster Ligalig (Anxiety, 2006) is a frightening. His mob boss in Mario Cornejo's First Day High (2006) is utterly fun to watch. His imposing fathers in Brillante Mendoza's gorgeously shot family drama Kaleldo (Summer Heat, 2006) and Rory Quintos' syrupy romance Kailangan Kita (I Need You, 2002) are so formidable that even without him onscreen, you can always feel his lingering presence. His doting father in Cathy Garcia-Molina's underwhelming You Got Me! (2007), on the other hand, is sweet, tender and in parts, quite humorous.
With the variety of roles that Delgado has played, one would expect the man to also be imposing and intimidating. However, based from the reactions and stories of his immediate family, his friends, and the many mourners who have shared little moments (I have been introduced to Delgado after the birthday concert of classical soprano Ana Feleo, Delgado's eldest daughter, and he appeared to me a very gentle man, very generous to share his smile even to people he barely knew. It is the exact opposite of the several characters that have rattled and daunted me throughout my existence as a Filipino film-consuming mortal), it appears that the actor is very well-loved and that his passing is not only a loss to the Philippine cinema which he has dedicated his life to, but also to the lives of the many people he has affected through the roles he has breathed life to and the life he has lived with much passion, dignity, and humility.