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Human remains found in Los Angeles mountains belong to Julian Sands

The British actor had disappeared in January northwest of LA during a hike

British actor Julian Sands
British actor Julian Sands, at the Venice Film Festival in 2019.PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW (REUTERS)
María Porcel

For days everything pointed in this direction and, finally, the mystery has been solved in the most tragic of ways. The human remains found by mountaineers on June 24 on Mount Baldy, north of Los Angeles, belong to Julian Sands, the 65-year-old British actor who went missing in the same area last January, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has confirmed.

Sands’ fate found him doing what he loved most: walking in his beloved mountains, albeit mountains that are considerably more dangerous than the thousands of hikers who visit San Gabriel every year realize: between 2017 and 2022, search and rescue teams were called out to assist 233 people and eight perished on its steep slopes, which exceed 9,800 feet (3,000 meters), over the same timeframe. Temperatures drop below zero in winter and snowfall can reach 40 cm.

On January 13, two hikers were reported missing in the area, but it wasn’t until six days later that police confirmed one of them was Sands. “From what I understand, he left sometime that day for a hike and when he did not return, his family reported him missing,” San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Gloria Huerta told AP at the time.

Deputies were able to locate signals from Sands’ cell phone, which pointed to a popular trail in the Baldy Bowl area that became the focus of subsequent searches. However, due to the storms that hit the region in January - the most intense in four decades - which left severe frost and up to three-and-a-half meters of snow in their wake, the patrols were forced to call off the search. Since then, there have been seven more organized search attempts. The most recent took place on the weekend of June 17, when police, volunteers, airplanes, and drones unsuccessfully scoured the zone.

After the June 24 discovery, the actor’s family made a first public statement since he went missing: “We continue to hold Julian in our hearts with bright memories of him as a wonderful father, husband, explorer, lover of the natural world and the arts, and as an original and collaborative performer.”

Throughout his extensive career Sands had roles in dozens of films and television series. The late 1980s and early 1990s were the most rewarding years of his professional life. After appearing in the acclaimed The Killing Fields, it was above all his lead performance in A Room with a View (1985), directed by James Ivory opposite a then-debutant Helena Bonham-Carter, which afforded him wider recognition, prompting a move to Hollywood. Then came Warlock (1989), Arachnophobia (1990) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995). In the 1990s he was involved in a series of minor projects and smaller roles, although he stood out in brief television outings such as 24 and Smallville, in which he played Superman’s father. His most recent project was Seneca, a film directed by Robert Schwentke about the philosopher and starring John Malkovich, who met Sands on the set of The Killing Fields, the two becoming best friends; he also left a posthumous project, The Piper, a noir version of the popular fable The Pied Piper directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen, which will be released this summer.

Malkovich spoke about the person he called his “closest friend” at the premiere of Seneca at the Berlin Film Festival last February, a month after Sands’ disappearance. Talking to The Guardian, in what was his first public statement about the missing actor, he noted that he was a very experienced climber who’d been through very hairy experiences. He was always tramping off to Kilimanjaro, or Antarctica, or the Andes, or the Alps.

“I suppose the particular conditions on the ground that day on Mount Baldy must have led to some sort of catastrophic and immediate error that was irreversible. That was my instinct upon hearing it. But he knew what the conditions were, and that’s what he loved to do. He found great solace in the solitude of that,” Malkovich said, adding that Sands was a “boy who grew up wild on the moors and – despite being someone who could be incredibly erudite and polished – had always kept that wild part of himself.”

Sands, who was born in Otley, Yorkshire, was the father of three children. The eldest, Henry, who participated in some of the search missions, is a journalist and communications consultant. Born in 1985, he is the son of Sands’ first wife, writer, and journalist Sarah Sands (née Harvey), a former editor of Reader’s Digest and The London Evening Standard, whom he divorced in 1987 after three years of marriage. Henry spoke to The Times last April about his father’s disappearance, saying he was “realistic” about how the extreme weather conditions had affected the search for his father and thanking rescuers for the extensive deployment to find him.

Malkovich is Henry’s godfather, and it was he who introduced Sands to his second wife, Evgenia Citkowitz, an American playwright, author, and journalist whose father was Israeli and whose mother was a British aristocrat, through whom Citkowitz is a descendant of the Guinness family, the founders of the brewing empire. Sands and Citkowitz married in 1990, lived in Los Angeles and had two daughters, Natalya, 26, and Imogen, 23.

Sands’ passion for the mountains made Los Angeles and its surrounding area - full of hills, trails and canyons for hiking - a perfect location for him. In an interview with The Guardian in 2020, Sands was asked about his greatest fear: “Inactivity, immobility, ill health and boredom,” he replied. He also said that his greatest wish was to climb “a remote peak in the high Himalayas, such as Makalu.” He also recalled the moment when he said he had come closest to death: “In the early 90s, in the Andes, caught in an atrocious storm above 20,000ft with three others. We were all in a very bad way. Some guys close to us perished; we were lucky.” Still, Sands didn’t’ hesitate to reveal what made him truly happy: “[Being] close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning.”

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