The legendary 86-year-old Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado hadn’t appeared on camera for a decade when filmmakers Kareem Tabsch and Cristina Costantini turned up on his doorstep with their crew. This world mega-star’s daily TV show had once beamed into over 150 million homes daily and although this fascinating documentary covers his sudden absence from the public eye, they focus mainly on his incredible journey to global fame.
His story starts when as a feminine young boy he became the center as a child healer in his remote rural village. He soon fled to the big city to study ballet and theater, and got his first taste of success when he became a telenovela actor. Between shoots Mercado read his cast mates palms backstage, which caught the attention of a Telemundo executive. He was given his own spot on TV to ostensibly promote the telenovela but Mercado ever the ham, couldn’t resist to build his part, and dramatically threw in his astrological predictions , and literally overnight became a star.
As the documentary tells in detail his success soared as a result of a combination of his talent, charisma and sheer hard work. His outrageous style and his over-the-top costumes were far from the norm in this very conservative and traditional culture in Puerto Rico and Central and South America, yet audiences totally adored him without hesitation.
His meteoric rise to fame brought Mercado great wealth. but it also brought him to the attention of unscrupulous Bill Bakula who became his manager. Bakula had Mercado sign a contract where he naively forked over his image and name in perpetuity. It was a wicked twist of fate for the man who was such an expert at predicting other’s future, failed to recognize his own.
The Bakula incident that had major financial and career repercussions for Mercado, showed that he was both very strong and genuine he was. Ot also showed how his sisters and the friends in the know couldn’t do enough to help the man who had spent his entire life being generous to everyone else.
Even at 86 years old it is so easy to see why the camera has always loved him. The sexually ambiguous man who has never knowingly had any sort of life partner, has this infectious charisma that attracts so many people. Often compared to Liberace for many obvious reasons, but Mercado’s showmanship was never just an act, he was the real thing.
Mercado was in frail health when ths documentary was made, but his spirit never diminished. When the cameras followed him To Miami (where he is regarded as a Saint) for a retrospective at the Museum, there is glorious scene when Mercadao dressed up in his finery , appears in a moving throne.
This turned out to be his last performance in public as his died soon after. It was a very fitting exit.
Mercado’s influence will continue for decades to come. Not just because of this excellent documentary but the fact by example he proved to so many young Puerto Rican and other Latino boys that you really can be anyone you want to in this world. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that alone
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