One of Puerto Rico's most well-known celebrities, television personality and astrologer Walter Mercado, died of apparent kidney failure at a hospital in San Juan on Sunday, according to a family spokesperson who confirmed his passing to Telemundo.
Mercado was 88.
Mercado became known throughout Latin America and the U.S. through his television show, with his signature, flamboyant style and his colorful capes. He was so beloved that this past summer, the HistoryMiami Museum had an exhibit about his life, 50 years after his first television appearance.
Mercado was born in Ponce, one of Puerto Rico’s largest cities. He worked briefly for TV stations based in the U.S. Caribbean territory before moving to South Florida.
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There, he gained fame for his daily horoscope segment on Spanish-language TV, delivered in a dramatic fashion with an exaggerated trilling of the “r″ sound. He favored long and colorful brocades and huge gemstone rings, which he flashed while pointing to viewers.
His catch phrase to his audience: "Sobre todo, mucho, mucho amor," which translates to “Above all, lots and lots of love.”
Mercado never publicly stated his sexuality, but he was an icon in the gay community as someone who challenged the conservative television culture in Latin America.
“He endows the drag queen with papal authority,” Diana Taylor, a New York University Tisch School of Performing Arts professor, wrote in a 2003 critique.
On Twitter, the reaction to his death was swift as Latinos across the country reacted to the news.
Because he had spent so many decades in the public eye, he was known to several generations of Latinos, from grandparents to twenty-somethings.
my dad (who passed away december 2017) and i would ALWAYS watch him... seeing this icon go hits a big part of my childhood. this just brings back memories of my dad when i was a kid. thank you for making an impact on our lives. rest in peace angel ✨💞#WalterMercadopic.twitter.com/I76jrtlRwX
In 1998, Mercado got in trouble for endorsing alleged health and beauty products.
He was named in a class-action lawsuit that accused him of misleading people into buying beads with supposed special powers. The president of the jewelry company, Unique Gems International Corp., was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for defrauding 16,000 people in a $90 million scam.
In October 2010, Mercado announced he was changing his name to “Shanti Ananda.” That same year, he stopped shooting his segment for the Univision Spanish-language TV channel. Months later, he began to deliver daily horoscopes through El Nuevo Herald newspaper in Miami.
Mercado was hospitalized in December 2011 in Puerto Rico following a cold that turned into pneumonia. His health condition worsened, and he was transferred to a hospital in Ohio. It was later revealed that he had suffered a heart attack.