The prolific film and TV star was reported missing by his wife, the writer Evgenia Citkowitz, after going hiking in the San Gabriel mountains on Friday 13 January. He is a keen hiker, who once described his happiest moment as “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning”.
Authorities are carrying out an extensive search-and-rescue mission for the 65-year-old actor, though extreme weather conditions had caused delays and interruptions. His adult son, Henry, is assisting in the search with an experienced climber.
“His family are frantic with worry,” a close friend told The Independent.
Throughout his life, Sands appeared in more than 150 films and TV series, including several Oscar winners.
The West Yorkshire-born actor began his career with supporting roles in projects such as 1984’s Oxford Blues and The Killing Fields, in which he played journalist Jon Swain.
Sands spent time with the real Swain in preparing for the role, later telling The Guardian: “I’d been cautioned by [director Roland Joffé] to keep my distance from John because he was an unstable character.
“And John had been told by Roland to stay away from me, because I was a refined, sensible person who didn’t want to be distracted. In fact, we bonded instantly. We were always quoting and misquoting Pinter to one another.”
It was also on the set of The Killing Fields that Sands first met John Malkovich, an actor with whom he formed a firm and lifelong friendship.
Malkovich has described Sands as “a Tarzan” and “a physical entity of a physical force”.
“Julian is wild and never contained by rules or boundaries,” a close friend of Sands tells The Independent. “He’s a Byronesque romantic and an adventurer drawn to the extremes of nature, relishing the freedom of mountains, which he conquers all over the world.”
They also noted Sands’ deep love of the Romantic poets: “His performances of their work is spellbinding and comes from a passionate love of literature,” they said.
“He is a friend bound by Homeric qualities of loyalty and living life to the full. He takes no prisoners and yet is as gentle and generous and sensitive as the poets he so admires.”
In 1985, Sands was cast as the lead in the Merchant Ivory romance A Room with a View, opposite Helena Bonham Carter. The film received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, winning three.
Sands followed this with a role in Ken Russell’s Gothic, playing the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Around this time, Sands decided to move to the US. He has resided in California ever since, though has often returned to Europe for filming.
After moving to the States, Sands starred in a number of prominent films, including 1989’s supernatural horror Warlock (and its 1993 sequel, Warlock: The Armageddon), period drama Impromptu (1991), horror-comedy Arachnophobia (1990), and the 1991 adaptation of William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.
In Arachnophobia, Sands played entomologist Dr James Atherton, the man who first discovers the deadly spider species that runs amok in a small Californian town.
Naked Lunch proved controversial, due to its subversive explorations of drug use and sexuality, but is now considered a cult classic. Boxing Helena in 1993 was even more scandalous, casting Sands as a surgeon who performs a quadruple amputation on a woman he is obsessed with, played by Twin Peaks’ Sherilyn Fenn.
In 1995, Sands starred in a supporting role in Leaving Las Vegas, alongside Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue, winning a Golden Globe for his efforts.
His later projects include a role alongside Jackie Chan in 2003’s The Medallion, and a supporting part in David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Sands has also worked extensively in TV, appearing in series such as the animated Jackie Chan Adventures, action drama 24, and Smallville, playing Jor-el, the biological father of Superman.
Most recently, he was seen in Terrence Davies’s acclaimed romantic biopic Benediction (2021).
“Having cemented himself as one of the great British stars in Merchant Ivory films, Julian moved on to a series of more quirky and original performances,” his friend said. “This is just an awful situation.”
Sands lives in California with Citkowitz, with whom he has two daughters. He shares son Henry with his first wife, journalist and editor Sarah Sands (née Harvey).