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Review: The Stars Align in 'Mucho Mucho Amor'

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 8, 2020
'Mucho Mucho Amor'
'Mucho Mucho Amor'  

The legendary 86-year-old Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado hadn't appeared on camera for a decade when filmmakers Kareem Tabsch and Cristina Costantini turned up on his doorstep with their crew. This world mega-star's daily TV show had once beamed into over 150 million homes daily, and although this fascinating documentary covers his sudden absence from the public eye, the focus is mainly on his incredible journey to global fame.

His story starts when he became the center of attention as a child healer in his remote rural village. He soon fled to the big city to study ballet and theater, and got his first taste of success when he became a telenovela actor. Between shoots Mercado read his cast mates palms backstage, which caught the attention of a Telemundo executive. He was given his own spot on TV, ostensibly to promote the telenovela, but Mercado — ever the ham — couldn't resist building his part. He dramatically threw in his astrological predictions and literally became an overnight star.

As the documentary tells in detail, his success soared due to a  combination of talent, charisma, and sheer hard work. His outrageous style and over-the-top costumes were far from the norm in the conservative and traditional culture in Puerto Rico and Central and South America, yet audiences adored him unreservedly.

His meteoric rise to fame brought Mercado great wealth, but it also brought him to the attention of the unscrupulous Bill Bakula, who became his manager. Bakula had Mercado sign a contract where he naively forked over his image and name in perpetuity. It was a wicked twist of fate for the man who was such an expert at predicting others' futures, but failed to recognize his own.

The Bakula incident had major financial and career repercussions for Mercado, those in his inner circle rallied to him: His sisters and the friends in the know couldn't do enough to help the man who had spent his entire life being generous to everyone else.

It is so easy to see why the camera has always loved him. Mercado was sexually ambiguous and never had a known life partner, but he possessed an infectious charisma. He was often compared to Liberace, for obvious reasons, but Mercado's showmanship was never just an act; he was the real thing.

Mercado was in frail health when this documentary was made, but his spirit never diminished. When the cameras follow him to Miami (where he is regarded as a saint) for a retrospective at the museum, there is glorious scene when Mercadao, dressed up in his finery, appears in a moving throne.

This turned out to be his last performance in public, as he died soon after. It was a very fitting exit.

Mercado's influence will continue for decades to come — not just because of this excellent documentary, but by the example he set for Puerto Rican and other Latino youth. You really can be anyone you want to in this world. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that alone.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

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