Often regarded as one of the great leading men of Spanish cinema, Francisco Rabal, in later life, matured into a respected character actor, whose outsized personality was a match for the men he portrayed onscreen. Francisco Rabal was born in Aguilas, a mining community in Murcia, Spain, on March 8, 1926. Rabal's father worked in the mines while his mother ran a mill. When Rabal was six, the Spanish Civil War swept through Murcia, and Rabal's family relocated to Madrid. As a young man, Rabal earned a living as a street peddler and as a chocolate-factory worker. Later, he found a job as an electrician at Chamartin Film Studios. While working at the studio, Rabal became interested in acting and began taking onscreen work as a bit player. Hoping to refine his skills as an actor, Rabal turned his attentions to the stage, and he won nationwide acclaim for his performance in a Spanish production of Death of a Salesman; it was also through his stage work that Rabal met actress Asuncion Balaguer, whom he married in 1950. Rabal's masculine good looks and easy charm quickly made him a popular leading man in Spain, and he established himself in the international film community with his performance in Luis Buñuel's Nazarin. Rabal and Buñuel became close friends, and Rabal worked with the great director on two more films, Viridiana and Belle de Jour.
Rabal later worked with Michelangelo Antonioni and Jacques Rivette, and in the '70s he dabbled in directing short films and writing poetry. The actor also became known for his outspoken nature, speaking out with iconoclastic good cheer on politics, religion, fame, and his profession when given the opportunity. As Rabal grew older, his waist thickened and his hairline receded, but he seized the opportunity to play less glamorous and more challenging roles, and in 1984 his performance in Los Santos Inocentes earned him Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival. Rabal kept up a busy schedule into his seventies, and in 1999 scored a late-career triumph with his acclaimed performance in Carlos Saura's Goya in Bordeaux. In August of 2001, Rabal received an award for lifetime achievement at the Montreal Film Festival. While flying home, Rabal died as a result of pulmonary complications. He left behind two children, both of whom grew to become active in the film industry -- actress and singer Teresa Rabal and filmmaker Benito Rabal.