Millions of Latin American fans know Walter Mercado as the flamboyant TV personality who spent years telling viewers their horoscopes while dressed in his sequined capes, gesturing with his graceful hands and proclaiming his loving “Mucho, mucho amor!” outro. But there’s a good chance they don’t know where Mercado went, and why he left the air, after his final astrology show in 2006.
In Netflix documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado,” streaming now (which was filmed before Mercado died in November at 87), Mercado shares his story, from growing up as a “different” boy to being something of a hermit in his last decade.
Even in his 80s, Mercado drew energy from the lens of a camera pointed his way, and is sure to earn new admirers in the film directed by Cristina Costantini (“Science Fair”) and Kareem Tabsch (“The Last Resort”). Here are five things that even longtime Mercado devotees might learn about the onscreen psychic in the documentary.
In 1969, the dancer and actor Mercado didn’t plan to start monologuing on TV about zodiac signs. But, as a guest on a daytime talk show, he was asked to talk about astrology – something he was always talking about amongst friends – while promoting a play in which he starred as an elaborately-dressed Hindu prince.
As Mercado remembers it, he wound up speaking “from the heart” about astrology for 15 minutes straight. Mercado’s assistant, Willie Acosta, recalls the general manager of Telemundo requesting that Mercado return the next day in the same costume for another episode. The improvised astrological oration turned into a one-hour show that ran into the ‘90s.
In “Mucho Mucho Amor,” Mercado describes his former manager, Bill Bakula, as being a godsend who launched his career. But Bakula also drafted a contract that gave himself complete rights to Mercado’s work and even his name. Mercado says he signed the document with a lawyer’s blessing, but didn’t read the text himself.
Bakula says in the film that his former client “got paid according to the contract,” but Mercado’s friends say he blindly signed the form and couldn’t use his name professionally, even after decades in the public eye, until the trademark dispute was settled.
Mercado recorded a final episode in 2006 and never returned to TV. He sued Bakula for the rights to his name in a legal battle that went on for years until Mercado finally had his rights and likeness returned.
Mercado had a heart attack two days after he won the lawsuit and says he remembers recovering and seeing what he thought were angels in heaven. According to the Associated Press, Mercado was hospitalized in December 2011, but the heart attack was not publicized at the time.
In May 2019, Mercado had another major health concern. A week before arriving at the HistoryMiami Museum to celebrate an exhibit about his life, he fell and fractured a rib and injured his back. The ailments didn’t stop him from conducting interviews and appearing at the museum celebration. Mercado died from kidney failure three months after the event.
Where did Mercado go after he stopped appearing on TV as a celebrity psychic and astrologer? The film shows him in his San Juan home with his assistant. The rooms are filled with artwork of Mercado’s likeness, religious amulets and piles of opulent accessories. The assistant, Acosta, is not a lover, the two insist. They’re more like family.
“I have sexuality with the wind, the flowers, the garden,” says Mercado, who’s never labeled his sexual identity and implies in the film that he’s a virgin. “I don’t need a person to make me happy.”
In January 2019, fellow Puerto Rican entertainer Lin-Manuel Miranda asked to visit Mercado. Mercado obliged in a meeting that’s seen in the film.
“You have in me a friend and admirer,” Mercado tells a starstruck Miranda, and gives the “Hamilton” creator an elaborate Puerto Rican flag cape.
“This feels very surreal,” says a starstruck Miranda. “You’re such a light in all of our lives.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda:Renewed criticism of Disney+ musical ‘Hamilton’ is ‘all fair game’