Yesterday, I read the news of Walter Mercado’s hospitalization due to complications of pneumonia and it inspired this post and homage to this strangely legendary but underrated figure for his lifetime commitment to improving the lives of others through spiritual enlightenment and celebrating the richness of our art, narratives, music, dancing, traditional mysticism and culture.
For those of you not familiar with Walter Mercado, he has been a pop culture phenomena and household name for many Hispanics who watched his astrology show for over 25 years. While we often jest about his parapsychology/metaphysical gobbledygook and gaudy glam, some thing needs to be said about his contributions and success. How many other Puerto Rican TV personalities have had a 2.5 decade run on an American television network that spawned newspaper columns, books, albums and more?
Here’s what Walter taught me:
Storytelling 101 – Drama and Flair Captivate an Audience: With his dramatic monologues, his outrageous over the top costumes, capes, and gigantic jewelry worthy of Liberace, and his heavily made-up face and hair, Walter never failed in mesmerizing generations and entire households of Hispanic viewers, thereby becoming a timeless cultural icon. As a writer, storyteller, communicator, marketer this is crucial skill.
Gender and Age are of Little Importance (and none of your business): No one would ever believe this Puerto Rican astrologer was born in Ponce in 1932 because he hasn’t aged a single bit over the years – no seriously, with every decade this man only looks younger! Now that may be due to the artistry of a skilled surgeon but Walter has always made it work with his fierce style and dedication to looking good. While his sexuality has remained dubious in spite of his denial of being gay, his asexualness hasn’t marred his phenomenal success among traditionally conservative Latinos here and abroad.
Find Your Center and the Universe Will Lead You to Your Destiny: Walter, who now calls himself Shanti Ananda due to a legal issue over the “Walter Mercado” brand copyright, was the original Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. He first became a mystic after travelling to India when he suffered the loss of a girlfriend in the 1960’s. He ended every show by wishing his viewers “mucho, mucho amor” bringing them closer to the divine.
We are Surrounded with Beauty and It Begins Within: Walter always surrounded himself with beautiful scenery and settings and you could see from decades of watching his show that he valued it and relished it as a Thing of Joy. He always wished his viewers passion and love in their lives. His discourses were never about God and more about spiritual happiness, inspiration and guidance.