Walter-Mercado-Netflix Famed astrologer Walter Mercado had emerged from a near-death experience and says he will create a charitable foundation in Puerto Rico to help children and teenagers, in 2012. He died of kidney failure at the age of 87, in 2019.
Image via AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo

For decades, Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado’s show was at the top of ratings. But just when he was at the peak of his career in the U.S. he vanished from TV. A year after his death, a new Netflix biopic reveals what happened.

Puerto Rican beloved astrologer Walter Mercado defines Latino kitsch. But he also gave a voice to one of the most oppressed groups in Latin America: the LGBTQ community. Netflix is releasing a new documentary this Wednesday on what happened to the star of all stars — pun intended — and why he vanished from the TV.

Now, let’s go a bit deeper and try to understand what someone like Mercado meant to an entire generation of Latinos, and why his death was almost as sad as his departure from Univisión for many.

“Astronomy is the scientific study of everything in outer space. Astrology is something else. It is not a science,” NASA wrote in a very informative — and somewhat passive-aggressive — statement a few years ago.

In a second statement, NASA’s shade was even, well, shadier:

“No one has shown that astrology can be used to predict the future or describe what people are like based only on their birth date. Still, like reading fantasy stories, many people enjoy reading their ‘astrological forecast’ or ‘horoscope’ in the newspaper every day.”

So, according to NASA, astrology enthusiasts might as well become Harry Potter fans because they’re both fantasy-loving nerds. 

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But NASA’s hilariously-catty takedown was just getting started. What really set people off was the organization’s assertion that, because the sun actually passes through thirteen, not twelve, Babylonian-created constellations, 86% of earth’s inhabitants were assigned the wrong zodiac sign. 

Many publications wrote sensationalist headlines (“Your life is a lie: The zodiac has changed”), which is probably why the federal agency concluded their critique with a saucy response:

“To make a tidy match with their 12-month calendar, the Babylonians ignored the fact that the sun actually moves through 13 constellations, not 12. Then they assigned each of those 12 constellations equal amounts of time. So, we didn’t change any zodiac signs… we just did the math.”

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I partially grew up in the United States, but was born in Mexico, a deeply superstitious country that takes its spiritualism, and mysticism very seriously (I’m sure that, at the very least, you’ve seen Coco by now). 

But even as someone who was culturally susceptible to believing the otherworldly, or far-fetched, to me — and those snobby scientists in Houston, clearly — astrology is a painfully obvious sham. 

So whenever Walter Mercado would appear on television, I didn’t divert all my attention towards him because I cared to find out if the stars, or some deity, was looking over me.

Or if Mercury was in retrograde (whatever that means).  

I gawked at the flashy boricua because, among all the insipid characters that normally appeared on Latin American shows — terrible soap opera actors, bikini models pretending to be reporters, rambunctious men arguing over soccer matches — Walter’s apparitions felt like a breath of fresh air. 

When Mercado’s segment came on in the living rooms of millions of Latin American families, nervous, insecure men would often joke about his demeanor. Women, on the other hand — especially older women, like my grandma — would hush everyone so that Walter’s voice could boom across the house. 

No one would dare change the channel. 

Ironically, the dandy’s appearances were just like the shooting stars he spoke of: brief, spectacular, surreal, and untouchable. 

I’m sure many people followed his advice and believed in his predictions. But I was mostly drawn by his defiance. The image of an effeminate man who bewitched entire living rooms with calculated poise, glamour, and ostentation was just as mysterious, fascinating, and fantastical as anything that could possibly lie beyond the sky. 

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I never gave it much thought as a kid, but as an adult, when I would still catch glimpses of him in a laundromat’s ceiling-mounted TV, or on a cashier’s cellphone inside a corner bodega — still commanding everyone’s attention, of course — I would contemplate the difficulties a flamboyant, ambiguous Puerto Rican man of his generation must have gone through. 

(Unfortunately, Latin America still has a long way to go when it comes to acceptance and tolerance. In Puerto Rico alone, ten LGBTQ+ people were murdered in the last sixteen months.

I came to realize that people’s admiration for Walter never stemmed from his supposed clairvoyance, but from the fact that he was a positive, charming, brave, and — perhaps the ultimate sin in Latin American culture — an openly-sensitive man. 

One who famously wished nothing but mucho, mucho amor onto everyone.