To close every show, astrologist and TV personality Walter Mercado used a special and genuine catch phrase: “Bendiciones para todos y que Dios me los bendiga a todos y que reciban de mi paz, mucha paz – pero sobre todo – mucho, mucho amor!”
He wished his audience peace and lots and lots of love.
It’s that love that remains in the hearts of so many in the Latinx community as they mourn his passing. Mercado died last week at the age of 87 and was laid to rest in his native Puerto Rico.
He was someone who loved the colorful aspects of life and chose to spread the message of positivity and acceptance, says Kareem Tabsch. He is the codirector of “Mucho, Mucho Amor,” a forthcoming documentary about Mercado. Tabsch spent the last three years with Mercado and his family.
“He is one of the staples of Spanish-language television,” Tabsch says. “If you were a Latino in the U.S. or in Latin America, Walter Mercado was a daily presence. Imagine, kind of like Mr. Rogers meets Oprah, dressed as Liberace.”
But it was chance that led Mercado down the path of being a Latinx icon. He started out as a telelanovela actor in Puerto Rico. Then one day almost 50 years ago, Mecado was asked by someone at a Puerto Rican news station to fill-in for their normal astrologer, who didn’t show up. Decades later Mercado was watched in more than 120 million homes in the U.S. and around the world.
For many, including Tabsch, Mercado is not just a pop culture icon but a link across generations of a multicultural family.
“As a young Latino growing up in Miami, Walter Mercado, those daily horoscopes were a do not miss, must see tradition in our household,” he says. I like a lot of my contemporaries when Walter came on TV in the afternoon. Our abuelitas and our moms would shut us up and sit us down and the family would watch. And that was a kind of memory that, you know, stuck very vividly in her mind.”
Mercado also loved to learn, Tabsch says. His embrace of various faiths, cultures and ideologies beamed through TV screens as he gave his predictions.
“He took the best of Christianity, the best of Hinduism, the best of Buddhism, the best of Islam and in Judaism – he took a little bit from all the faiths and from some of the smaller faiths like Santería. And he blended all of those, finding the best in them. And so when he spoke, everything was kind of influenced from these different belief systems.”
He was also somebody who challenged perceptions of masculinity and femininity while living in a historically machismo culture – by just being his authentic self.
“He blended male and female energies. He was androgynous,” Tabsch says.
Mercado donned makeup and was famous for his flamboyant capes. And watching him had a lasting effect on Tabsch.
“As a young queer person growing up,” he says, “being able to see someone on TV who was different. I knew that I wasn’t like every other boy in. And while I didn’t want to wear capes and jewels. I knew that there was somebody out there that was also different. And that was inspiring. And it was inspiring for a great deal of us, I think. And he helped us understand and accept ourselves, but also to understand and accept one another. And that our abuelitas could love him, They could also love us.”
Despite his cultural influence, Mercado also had his detractors, says Tabsch.
“And, that was most to do with [people’s] own prejudices, whether they were faith-based prejudices, whether they were homophobia – which are things that he really contended with in his lifetime,” he says.
The team behind the forthcoming Walter Mercado documentary, “Mucho Mucho Amor,” codirectors Kareem Tabsch and Cristina Costantini, producer Alex Fumero and Walter Mercado.
But for all his showmanship in front of the camera, Mercado was a famously private man, cherishing the close bonds of family. Bonds that Tabsch, over the last three years of Mercado’s life, developed with Mercado and his family.
“You know, it’s still a little shocking to me,” he says. “I can’t imagine walking through the doors of his house and in Coupe in San Juan and not seeing him and hearing him tell me he loves me and how am I doing? And it’s just a reminder of one of the things that happens when you grow up. Some people leave, but their memory stays with you forever. And I think that that Walter’s going to be one of those people. There’s never going to be another one like him — ever”