Inside Walter Mercado's Disappearance From Public Life Prior to His Death (Exclusive)
By Elisa Osegueda
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Walter Mercado was a giver of hope. The Puerto Rican astrologer blessed the homes of many Latinx families for decades with enriching daily horoscopes on the small screen. Following his death in 2019, little was known about Mercado's last years alive. Netflix's Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado explores the highs and lows of his eccentric career and what led to his disappearance from public life.
ET spoke with Mercado’s niece, Ivonne Benet, and Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch -- the directors of Mucho Mucho Amor, which premiered on July 8 -- to dive into why Mercado vanished from the airwaves in 2006 and never returned. Mercado died on Nov. 2, 2019. He was 87 years old.
His career began in the early ‘70s, and by the ‘90s, he was a prominent fixture in households across the globe. At the peak of his career, he had over 120 million viewers watching his beloved Walter y Las Estrellas segment on Univision. Many would describe him as the superhero of our hearts. But, in the mid 2000s, everything changed. Mercado disappeared from public life and no longer graced television sets with his opulent capes, colorful backdrops, and jewelry. It’s as if he performed a vanishing act.
“His mission was always peace,” Benet told ET. “He truly lived and embodied that and made it part of his catchphrase -- Y que reciban de mi, mucha paz pero sobre todo, mucho, mucho amor.”
“Walter loved being in front of the camera. He loved his fans and he loved his profession,” she explained. “It was a very difficult time when he no longer appeared on television. It was like his oxygen got cut off. He would have loved to have been on television until his death.”
Mercado’s last television segment aired on Oct. 3, 2006 on Univision. The Spanish-language network sadly decided to pull him from the air when the famed astrologer became embroiled in a lawsuit with his former manager, Guillermo “Bill” Bakula.
Who is Bill Bakula?
Bakula came into Mercado’s life at a very critical moment. He helped Mercado in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s expand his reach by producing a new show solely focused on astrology. Their partnership led to a global astrology phenomenon.
In the documentary, Mercado credits Bakula for making him “the most well-known psychic of this world, the prophet of the new age. Bill opened many doors for me.”
Mercado rapidly took over U.S. airwaves by radio and television and expanded his footprint across Latin America and Brazil. Bakula also helped Mercado cross over to the general market with appearances on The Howard Stern Show, Live With Regis and Kathie Lee, and The Sally Jessy Raphael Show.
“Every talent needs somebody behind them,” Bakula explains in the doc. “I was the coach for one single purpose -- [to get out] Walter’s message to as many people as possible.”
“It’s very important to acknowledge that we would not know Walter and Walter would have not been as famous and successful as he was if it were not for Bill,” Tabsch said to ET. “There is no shadow of a doubt. Bill was the person who propelled him to superstardom. At the same time, when you see the way things played out, of course you get frustrated.”
What led to Bakula and Mercado’s discord?
In 1995, after years of working together, Bakula gave Mercado a contract which, according to the documentary, stated that Mercado would forfeit the right to his own name, his image, his likeness and all of his ventures, both past and future, to Bakula’s company, Bart Enterprises International.
Mercado said he asked his lawyer at the time to review the document. He trustingly signed the contract without ever reading it.
“Bill Bakula was my angel. In one moment in my life, he was sent by God to make me and my message of love be known,” Mercado expresses in the doc. “He was very smart. He was the master.”
The legal battle between Bakula and Mercado ensues.
In 2006, Mercado tried to cut business ties with Bakula by no longer providing his service. Bart Enterprises International in return ceased to pay Mercado's monthly compensation of $25,000 a month, which led to litigation in federal court in Florida.
The jury determined that Mercado had no right to terminate the agreement and that the trademark rights to his name were not reverted back to him and found that Bart owed Mercado no compensation since Mercado had not complied with his contractual obligation. This led to a six-year legal battle as Mercado tried to regain the rights to his name.
It’s during this time that the court barred Mercado from using his name until the trademark dispute was settled, which led to Univision canceling his segment on Primer Impacto.
This resulted in a severe financial impact on Mercado. The documentary explains that he was not receiving any funds and was unable to conduct any business during that time.
“I was shocked that he didn't have someone looking out for him. But, that is such a common story of artists, young artists, and of Latin American artists in particular,” Costantini said. “Walter was not a businessman. He was very bad at money. He was a very trusting person. It’s really a shame.”
“It comes down to difference of opinion,” Tabsch explained. “In Bill’s opinion, it was a very clear business transaction -- there were multiple agreements that said the same thing and they were all signed. As far he’s concerned, he did nothing wrong.”
“Bill doesn’t blame Walter. They both retained this great sense of appreciation, admiration and affection for one another. There is no doubt in my mind that Walter loved Bill and that Bill loves Walter. Neither one of them had a negative thing to say about one another,” he added. “Bill said his problem is ultimately with [Walter’s] family.”
Tabsch, who grew close to Mercado during the production of the documentary -- so much so that he was a pallbearer at Mercado’s funeral -- said he couldn't help but “feel frustrated” at how things with Mercado and Bakula played out.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” he admitted. “At the end of the day, it really did cost Walter his livelihood and his prominence in the culture. I mean, he suddenly disappeared for years and he was never able to regain that huge audience he once had.”
Mercado regains the rights to his name but falls ill.
Ultimately, Mercado was given back all of his rights to his name, image, and his likeness. Two days after the victorious court ruling, though, he suffered a heart attack. The long battle had scarred him emotionally and physically.
“It was all so painful and heartbreaking,” Benet recalled. “Walter trusted everyone. He did what his lawyer advised him to do [in 1995]. And, it cost him his career. After Univision canceled his contract, other opportunities came up but it was all during the legal proceedings, so he couldn’t take them. You know how show business is, if you don’t take advantage of an opportunity, it will pass.”
“After the heart attack, it took time for him to recover,” she continued. “When he was ready and available to work, he found it difficult to return to television. There weren’t any opportunities for him or someone else was occupying that space. Walter never interfered with the success of someone else. He respected other astrologers who wanted to do the same thing he did for many years. He wasn’t going to take a job away from anyone.”
According to Tabsch, Mercado’s disappearance from the public eye was “not his own doing or his own choice, but a complicated set of circumstances that really kind of robbed him from us. Walter only ever wanted to be with his public. If you think it was a loss for us, imagine what a great loss it was for him.”
“He tried to make a comeback and failed. I think it was very hard for him during those years he was out of the spotlight,” Costantini added. “It’s incredible that at the end of his life, he was able to make this final journey.”
Mercado’s last message to fans.
The documentary, in part, can be interpreted as a master class. Mercado opened his heart and home to his fans, in one last attempt to bring them messages of hope and love.
“When I was a child, I was very shy and insecure. My mother was very over protective of me. I was a dreamer,” Mercado recalls. “Since the moment I was born, I knew I wasn’t like everybody else. To be different is a gift. To be ordinary is common.”
“Love is the reason to live,” he expresses, adding that in life you “have to be nice to people, you have to give the best of yourself in every moment of your life and you have to believe in yourself.”
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado is available to stream now on Netflix.