Day 6

Netflix doc Mucho Mucho Amor sheds light on Walter Mercado, Latin America's horoscope superstar

Co-director Cristina Costantini describes meeting the beloved Puerto Rican TV astrologer whose flamboyant and mercurial personality was beloved by millions of Latin Americans since the 1970s.

'He was a little bit like our Mr. Rogers and Oprah, but dressed like Liberace': Cristina Costantini

Astrologer Walter Mercado appears in a scene from the documentary Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado. (Netflix via Associated Press)

When filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch approached legendary Puerto Rican TV astrologer Walter Mercado to make a documentary about him, he had one condition: he needed to know their signs.

"I'm a Libra. Kareem is a Libra. And [producer Alex Fumero] is a Sagittarius," recalled Costantini.

"And he said: 'That is the perfect combination. I'm definitely interested in doing this. It will be wonderful.' And he was right," she told Day 6 guest host Peter Armstrong.

It was an interaction in perfect character for Mercado, who became known to Latinos across the Americas with his flamboyant, joyful personality on-air persona. Mercado died late last year.

Costantini and Tabsch's documentary Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado is named after Mercado's famous greeting.

It documents how he grew up from a background of poverty to become one of the biggest names in television astrology and Latin-American media writ large from the 1970s to the 2000s and beyond.

"For Spanish-speaking kids, he was a little bit like our Mr. Rogers and Oprah, but dressed like Liberace," said Costantini.

"He was magical. He was spiritual. He was mystical. It was almost like a religious experience whenever he would come on the TV. All Latin households would get quiet. Everyone would come into the room and he would tell us our future."

At his peak, Mercado was a household name from Puerto Rico and Brazil to Mexico and the United States. His television appearances included regular segments on Telemundo's El Show del Medio Día and Univision's Primer Impacto.

His program Walter y las Estrellas, according to the documentary, was the first hour-long program dedicated wholly to astrology. He also appeared on American talk shows hosted by the likes of Kelly Ripa and Howard Stern.

Messages of hope and love

Costantini described Mercado as frequently sly and slippery, often deflecting questions about certain topics with another funny story that stopped the docmakers in their tracks, thanks to his charisma.

"He didn't like talking about his age or his plastic surgeries — which he may or may not have had," said Costantini, herself a former investigative journalist with experience reeling in slippery interviewees.

The whole schtick of being this fabulous, over-the-top, bejewelled creature was ... so he could share with people this message of love.- Cristina Costantini

In particular, he avoided answering direct questions about his sexuality. Fans and commentators had long suspected he was gay, pointing to his effeminate styling and close friendship with his assistant Willie Acosta.

It was part of Mercado's ability to answer questions without having to say them out loud, and to win the love of a "homophobic, very Catholic, very machismo culture" in Latin America, Costantini explained.

His persona also belied a well-read, "brilliant man" who, according to Costantini, used his approachable persona to educate his viewers about world religions such as Hinduism.

"The whole schtick of being this fabulous, over-the-top, bejewelled creature was a character that he created, in part, so he could share with people this message of love," she said.

Love after death

In 2012, Mercado suddenly disappeared from the spotlight, after losing a court case involving the legal rights to his name and likeness for business ventures.

The dispute stemmed from a falling-out with his manager Bill Bakula. As Mucho Mucho Amor details, Mercado eventually won back the rights, allowing him to work again. But he was unable to reach the heights he previously enjoyed.

Costantini said she and Tabsch thought their documentary was going to be the story of his comeback. It turned out to be his swan song.

Mercado, left, is visited by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father Luis Miranda in 2019. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Mercado's health visibly deteriorated over the weeks the documentary team followed him. He died in November at the age of 87, one day after Costantini and Tabsch submitted their documentary to the Sundance Film Festival.

Since its debut, Mucho Mucho Amor has sat high on Netflix's trending ranks. Costantini is hopeful the work will continue to spread his messages of love and acceptance after his passing.

"I'm excited to see how far his message might go. He would really, really love watching the support for the film."

Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Mouhamad Rachini.

To hear more, download our podcast or click Listen above.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?