SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBSNewYork/CNN) — Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado Salinas died Saturday night at Auxilio Mutuo Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to hospital spokeswoman Sofia Luquis. He was 88.
Mercado was an icon of Spanish language television and widely known throughout New York’s Latin community — which is home to the largest Puerto Rican population in the United States.
He became famous for delivering daily horoscopes and his message of “lots and lots of love” for decades.
“According to his niece, Ivonne Bennet, the actor also died in peace and surrounded by the love of his family,” family spokesman Omar Matos said in a statement. Mercado reportedly died due to renal failure.
Mercado was born at sea on a ship traveling from Spain to Puerto Rico on March 9, 1932, according to a biography published by Puerto Rico’s Foundation for Popular Culture. He was raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and began his career as an actor and dancer, appearing in various telenovelas in Puerto Rico.
Mercado’s career as an astrologer began in 1969, when a guest did not show up for an appearance on a Telemundo program, according to CNN affiliate WIPR.
The show’s producer asked Mercado to fill in for the guest by reading the horoscope. According to the foundation, the station was flooded with calls asking for Mercado to return and he launched a new career in astrology.
In 1970, Mercado began presenting a regular astrological segment on Telemundo Puerto Rico. From then on, he focused solely on astrology. He was broadcast in the 1980s on several television networks across Latin America and the United States.
An exhibition dedicated to Mercado was shown at the HistoryMiami museum earlier this year. According to the exhibit, his readings reached 120 million Latino viewers a day for more than 30 years.
His readings were delivered with dramatic flair, often with trilled “r’s” for emphasis. Mercado dressed extravagantly, often in heavily decorated robes or capes.
The Associated Press reports Mercado never publicly stated his sexuality, but was still 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.
He moved his program to Univision Miami in 1990, where he appeared on the network’s news show, “Primer Impacto.” He always ended his appearances with the phrase: “Above all, much, much, much love.”
He left Univision in 2010 and later wrote a horoscope column for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister newspaper of The Miami Herald. In 2015, he launched a website where his fans could listen to their horoscope as well as ask him questions.
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