The thing about Junix Inocian was, he was so warm and embracing, you felt you were his closest friend. He’d have private jokes with you, listen to you with sincere sympathy, hug you hard. And he was happy to be owned by you.
We did a two-hander, Bill C. Davis’ “Mass Appeal,” during Rep’s 37th season, and to this day I consider that among the most important milestones in my life. It was one of my first leading roles, while he was, even at the time, a tried-and-tested veteran.
The rest of the Rep family was doing “La Cage aux Folles” at Rizal Theater, and we were left to hold the “Insular Season fort” together, so to speak. “Mass Appeal” was a bittersweet dramedy that had people in tears at the final curtain, and Junix was in his element. He was funny, complex, touching and utterly generous—exactly how he was in life.
We both loved the play, loved exploring rehearsals together, loved every moment we spent onstage together. And it was the last time I had him to myself, this man everyone owned.
I could write an entire article about the man who affectionately called us “darleeeng,” the man the rest of the country knew as Kuya Mario in “Batibot,” but his passing has brought out testaments of love from countless others who were fortunate to have basked in his light.
I put up a Facebook page in his honor hoping to solicit tributes for this article, and I was overwhelmed. In just two days, 320 people joined, most of them contributing glowing, affectionate, sometimes hilarious, stories about him.
Junix’s amazingly varied career included teaching workshops, scoring plays, directing plays, acting in movies, TV programs and commercials. His acting resumé could easily fill 10 letter-size papers single-spaced.
I apologize for not being able to include every one of the tributes, but the sampling here attests to how well he was loved, respected, admired and, well, loved some more.
Pinky Amador: I remember spitting KFC chicken bits on your face during “I Ought to Be in Pictures” (too much food for the amount of dramatic dialogue), and when I plopped a mouthful of spit right next to you, as Lucy to your Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” During one of my journeys back to London when I was actively to-ing and fro-ing, and I was not feeling too sure of myself, I shared with you that simply knowing I am in the same city with you made me feel safe. Now you are in a better place, with Annie and Smoke. Your memory, artistry and generosity, both as an artist and as an awesome human being, will live on in our hearts.
Claude-Michel Schönberg (Composer, “Miss Saigon,” “Les Misérables”): Junix, there are so many pictures of you performing The Engineer on the Net or in my mind that you will be alive years and years. Now that you have reached your “American Dream,” rest in peace, my talented friend.
Alain Boublil (Lyricist, “Miss Saigon,” “Les Misérables”): Junix Inocian died of a heart attack, which sounds like a contradiction in terms to me for a man with such a big heart and an actor of such generous personality. He was one of the first Filipino actors-singers we auditioned in Manila back in 1988, and he became part of what would become the fabled first London company of “Miss Saigon,” in which he would later play brilliantly the role of The Engineer before pursuing a career in theater, TV and film. All my heartfelt feelings go to his family on this sad day; I will keep his talent and his warm smile in my memory. Thank you, Junix.
Lea Salonga: My first exposure to your genius was when you played Lazar Wolf in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I was only 8 years old and one of the many children in the ensemble. All I remember was that you were a force of nature, like a typhoon or a tornado. You then played Bundles the laundryman and Drake the butler when I played Annie for the first time (I was 9). Fast forward to 1989, and we headed off to “Miss Saigon.” There is no one like you nor will there ever be… Allow me to say, I am goodnighting you, my friend. The world will be a darker, sadder place without you.
Naths Everett: Tito Junix was our “Manong” in “Miss Saigon.” Even in his darkest days, he managed to make us smile and inspire us. It was a master class every time we performed with him.
Cameron Mackintosh: The sudden shock of Junix’s premature departure from us is not just because we have lost a wonderfully talented actor but also because of his great spirit. He was truly a leading man in being both the leading actor and the father of the company for several of my productions. Ever since I first met Junix in 1988 in Manila, there was no doubt that he was special. It is a great credit to his country that he became the first Asian actor to play the role of The Engineer in “Miss Saigon,” and through his considerable talent, he carved himself a significant career in the British Theatre as well as in the Philippines. We will all miss him hugely, and I consider it a great privilege to have known him.
Gigi Virata: I think Junix was the first Ronald McDonald in the Philippines. I vaguely remember accompanying him to a McDo store in central Manila. Even in full Ronald M. costume and makeup, the kids called out to him, “Kuya Mario! Kuya Mario!”—his character in “Batibot,” the Philippine version of “Sesame Street.” Junix took on all jobs then as long as they involved acting.
Joel Nuñez: Did you know that Junix started as a janitor in Rep? He was fresh from Silliman, and he went to Rep, and Tita Bibot (Zeneida Amador) told him there was an opening at Rep, but only for a janitor, and he took it. Not! Tita Bibot was just testing how serious Junix was about joining Rep, and when he took her offer, she cast him as Lazar Wolf in the 1978 “Fiddler on the Roof.” Not a touching story but a testament to Junix’s devotion to his art.
Conrad Tiu: Reppers knew the fires of Tita Bibot’s anvil. She had it cranked up exclusively high for Junix. She gave him no quarter, no inch. He dared aspire to lead roles. Early at rehearsals one day, I witnessed her shout at him, “From the moment they enter the stage, EVERYONE has TWO SECONDS to convince the audience that they are the character they play. YOU (she points at him) have HALF A SECOND! If YOU CAN’T GIVE THAT, YOU CAN’T PLAY THE PART!” Well, he gave, and he gave, and he gave. His life is a manifest of that giving.
Lourdes Faberes: Junix was a man who showed up—at birthdays, shows, barbecues, random coffee moments. While most Londoners take a few rain checks to finally get together, it was always pretty simple with him. Saturday, Chinatown, 6 p.m., OK. It was done. He was there. And the day would just be better. Junix was like comfort food—unassuming, devoid of spectacle, but once with you, you immediately felt how special the experience was. You don’t realize you’ve missed him until he shows up and hits you with a belly laugh that comes from his deep, big, open heart. It’s hard not to miss him now or spin into a wave of sadness at the loss. But when I really think about how I should remember him, it has to be in the spirit of celebration and absolute gratefulness that we crossed paths in the first place. How lucky we are, all.
Isay Alvarez: He was our kuya, being the eldest, but never the know-it-all guy. He was funny but very serious onstage! We all had our little pranks onstage. In one scene where he played an officer coming in with Viet Cong troops to arrest people, played mostly by Pinoys, Jenine (Desiderio) and I would do things behind the set to make them laugh. We were successful every time; their shoulders would start shaking and their faces would contort—but never Junix! Challenge ito! So every show, we would think of ways to make him laugh. Finally, we thought of doing the typical beach love scenes in ’80s Pinoy movies. Sabugan ng tubig in slow motion! This happened at the back of Kim’s house, with Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer arguing with Kim. It was a heated scene. Our water exchange was also hitting the climax, and we saw the great Junix giggling! So Jenine and I were jumping up and down when the prop orange she had in her breast pocket popped out and rolled out onto the stage, passing by Jonathan and landing in the orchestra pit. We got Jonathan Pryce so mad that he talked on our monitors to vent his frustration so everyone could hear. Of course we were guilty, but we were very happy, too, because we got to break Junix! He is sorely missed.
Dennis Marasigan: I first met him in Dumaguete when he was still a technical director at Luce Auditorium. I was the LD/TD for a touring production of “Tatarin,” back to back with “Josephine,” directed by Tony Mabesa, and he helped me around the theater. Then in Repertory Philippines, when I was lighting and sound designer, his performances as the Major General in “The Pirates of Penzance” and Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” among many others, were imprinted in my memory. When I was in London during the “Miss Saigon” days, I became his guest at one of the performances when he played The Engineer, touring me backstage before the show and even driving me home after. He was always an ebullient personality.
Audie Gemora: I remember Junix to be a family man. We were in Singapore in 1981 touring “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and he bought pasalubong for his family. Laid these out excitedly on his hotel bed. I thought to myself in quiet admiration, one day I’d like to be a dad like him.
Shielu Bharwani: It’s coming back to me now: “Ambot sa langaw na naga pasayawsayaw daw pobreng alindahaw.” Junix and I used to repeat that to each other, just for sport or fun. It was a connection to a language, a dialect that we shared. I’m sure there’s more to the quote than I’m remembering. I shared that with Junix, and I want to remember it. It helps me think of him.
Baby Barredo: When Rep would have dinners together between shows at Insular Life, Junix would impersonate the others, and we would all be laughing hard. He was such a talented actor. He would learn songs and steps in a snap. He lived for his craft. He lived his life as an actor and lived it joyously.
Andrew Bradley Smith (West End actor): Back in the 1990s, during my time in “Miss Saigon” at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, I was very upset as I was leaving work one night through a deserted stage door. Then Junix called to me, cupped my face in both of his hands and asked me what was the matter; he looked into my eyes and told me everything would be OK. I believed him! He pulled my head to his shoulders so I could let out my emotions and cry. The reason and memory for that outpouring of emotion is now a distant memory, but that pure and simple act of kindness has stayed with me forever.
Phil Cavill (The Engineer in “Miss Saigon,” Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables”): Now before I start, let me say that as a West End performer, this is totally unprofessional! I remember it was my first West End job, and I was second cover Engineer. Junix pulled me to one side, knowing the first cover was on holiday, and said, “Pip, call your family and get them tickets for Monday. You’re on that night!” “What do you mean?!” I said. “Just do it!” he replied. Needless to say, Junix had a very bad “stomachache” that day. He knew second covers rarely get on and wanted to give me that chance. By chance, Cameron popped in that night, and the rest is history. (I actually did it for my second cover, too, when I was Jean Valjean. Sorry, Cam.)
Hadrian Delacey (West End actor): I remember being in “Miss Saigon” on Junix’s last day as The Engineer. At the matinee, the entire show was filled with cameos from original members of the company and various companies onwards, all ready to surprise Junix in each scene, including Hilton McRae driving the Cadillac! It was a testament to the love everyone had for Junix that so many appeared (although keeping them hidden was a logistical nightmare!).
Irene Alano-Rhodes (West End actor, Gigi in “Miss Saigon”): [She was among the last people to be with Junix.] The day you went grocery shopping with me even if you didn’t need to … and that long hug you gave me, which I now know would be the last one. Little did I know that my rock, my best friend, my “nongski,” the person who was always there for me and my young man Louis, the one who would make me howl with laughter even during low moments, my food-trip partner in crime, the one who absolutely adored his kids and family just by the beautiful stories he shared with a smile on his face every time we met up… I cannot reach deep into my heart enough to express how your passing has left such a big void in my heart.
Raymond Lauchengco: In 1982, Repertory Philippines mounted its first production of “Sweeney Todd.” Junix was cast in the title role, and I got to share the stage with him as Tobias. This was probably the first time I saw Junix struggle with a role. It was Sweeney Todd, after all, and George Hearn had just set the benchmark on Broadway. But like the true artist he was, Junix wanted to craft his own version and not simply copy someone else’s. He refused to watch the New York version on tape and paid dearly for it. Every night at rehearsals, he would be criticized, yelled at even, but he took it all, never showing any disrespect or resentment. He never compromised his integrity, either. Junix took all the pain and all the difficulty, and used these to forge his very own Sweeney. At the final dress-tech rehearsal when we thought nothing else could go wrong, Junix had an accident running down the stairs of the set. His leg had to be cast in heavy plaster and he had to use crutches for the next few weeks. Can you imagine Sweeney Todd slitting throats, running up and down the stage, carrying bodies, assaulting the audience—in crutches? Any lesser actor would have waved the white flag at that point, and it would have been perfectly acceptable to do so under the circumstances. But not Junix. He dismissed the pain and taught himself how to do everything he had to do on stage with crutches practically overnight. As the run of the show progressed, Junix used the crutches as part of Sweeney’s character, as part of Sweeney’s circle of gesture, and another weapon he could terrify the audience with. Every night of every performance, we all wondered how he did it. But he was Junix, after all. I have never seen an actor go through so many obstacles only to remain unscathed and become the finest Sweeney Todd I have ever seen. Farewell, Junix, I am goodnighting you.
Bart Guingona: As for me, there was his comic timing, his intelligence, his warmth, his fleetness of foot. And that voice. Never another one like him. Goodnighting you, my friend.
Bart Guingona is one of the country’s most awarded actors and directors.