If you were a binge-watching fan of the Netflix series Tiger King a few months ago, battling depression over its finale and conclusion, be encouraged that the world abounds in bizarre people, many deserving of their own documentary attention and treatment.
I am speaking of Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado.
If you’re unfamiliar with his name or claim to fame, watch this trailer before going further, just so that we’re all on the same page.
OK. Now that you know who he is, or was, you might have some interest in what the hell all the fuss was about.
At the height of his career, Walter Mercado had achieved international fame and stardom, at his peak reaching over 120 million viewers.
On some basic level, he was an astrologer and as much as we hate to admit it, all of us at one time or another have indulged in the guilty, absurdly ridiculous pleasure of reading our horoscopes for the day just to see what might be in store for us.
I’ll admit, I’ve done it myself from time to time over the years.
Even though it’s illogical, it’s still nice to hear things suggesting that we might somehow be reunited with a long-lost friend or stumble upon financial good fortune.
It’s that kind of blanket optimism that fuels the world of astrology.
In a cruel world that seems programmed to destroy you one way or another, it’s good to occasionally hear some soothing words of assurance or hope even if it is utter nonsense.
Fortune cookies offer similar solace in shorter form.
At a very young age, Walter Mercado saw all this with crystal clarity.
In yet another rags to riches tale, he was able to gain some notoriety for his purported powers of healing, gain a reputation for reading the stars and then taking it to the television screens of his native Puerto Rico.
The country wasn’t exactly drowning in quality TV entertainment.
He didn’t face any serious competition.
Not surprisingly perhaps, he was instantly and immensely popular.
The documentary makes a strong case for the near- hypnotic hold that he had over his audiences.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator and star of the Broadway hit Hamilton) himself recounts how, as a young boy, everything at his home would come to a sudden stop whenever the segment aired so that everyone could listen to Mercado’s astral divining and prognostication.
But it wasn’t just about the interpretation of the stars and heavens. It was about Mercado himself.
He was an outrageously flamboyant figure with his own outlandish appearance and unique, somewhat shocking presence.
He dressed in gaudy, glittery clothes and capes and appeared in surreal television studio settings.
In his publicity photos, he looked like a woman. Over the years, successive cosmetic surgeries transformed him into the visage of something resembling a badly aged Julie Andrews.
It was quite a freakshow. And the public gobbled it up.
Mercado became a very wealthy cultural phenomenon.
Having lived through the years of his fame, it’s hard to understand how it was that I missed all this clamor, though I do recall seeing some television commercials starring Dionne Warwick pitching "Psychic Friends Network."
At the time, I just assumed that Warwick’s bank account was in need of some desperate quick-fix, quick bucks cash infusion.
It all seemed like a sham; a tacky money grab for everyone involved.
As is the case with these rags-to-riches-back-to-rags show business stories, things eventually took a very ugly turn.
In fairness, I won’t divulge the shocking details since that’s the heart of the story and it wouldn’t be fair to blurt them out here.
Suffice it to say that it’s a pretty head-spinning scenario, laced with misplaced trust and heartless greed. It’s the tawdry, tantalizing details that are worth watching.
Admittedly Mucho Mucho Amor gets off to a slow start.
Resist your urge to bail out too soon.
It eventually picks up steam and delivers the freakshow thrills you came to see.
And it offers up a sad commentary about the worst elements of human nature.
It touches upon ambition, glamor, gullibility and greed all taken to the extreme.
We’ve seen colorful characters like Mercado before. I’m thinking of the late Liberace.
People snickered at his public persona but recognized his musical talent. The tabloid revelations about his personal life, which surprised no one, came after he passed away.
While Mercado didn’t play piano or raise tigers, he shared a similar spotlight with people beyond the fringe of acceptance to succeed despite, or possibly because of their strangeness to the rest of the world.
If your curiosity gets the better of you, my prediction is that you’ll be thoroughly entertained by Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado.
Regardless of your sign.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend Of Walter Mercado is on Netflix.