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Walter Mercado, flamboyant Puerto Rican astrologer, dies at 88

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Walter Mercado, a flamboyant astrologer and television personality whose daily TV appearances entertained many across Latin America for more than a decade, has died. He was 88.

Hospital spokeswoman Sofía Luquis told The Associated Press on Sunday that Mercado died from kidney failure at the Auxilio Mutuo Hospital in San Juan late Saturday.

She was not authorized to release more details, including how many days he had been hospitalized and whether he had moved back to Puerto Rico from South Florida.

Mercado was born in Ponce, one of Puerto Rico’s largest cities. He worked briefly for TV stations based in the U.S. Caribbean territory before moving to South Florida.

There, he gained fame for his daily horoscope segment on Spanish-language TV, delivered in a dramatic fashion with an exaggerated trilling of the “r” sound. He favored long and colorful brocades and huge gemstone rings, which he flashed while pointing to viewers.

His catch phrase to his audience: “Above all, lots and lots of love.”

Mercado never publicly stated his sexuality, but he was an icon in the gay community as someone who challenged the conservative television culture in Latin America.

“He endows the drag queen with papal authority,” Diana Taylor, a New York University Tisch School of Performing Arts professor, wrote in a 2003 critique.

In 1998, Mercado got in trouble for endorsing alleged health and beauty products.

He was named in a class-action lawsuit that accused him of misleading people into buying beads with supposed special powers. The president of the jewelry company, Unique Gems International Corp., was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for defrauding 16,000 people in a $90 million scam.

In October 2010, Mercado announced he was changing his name to “Shanti Ananda.” That same year, he stopped shooting his segment for the Univision Spanish-language TV channel. Months later, he began to deliver daily horoscopes through El Nuevo Herald newspaper in Miami.

Mercado was hospitalized in December 2011 in Puerto Rico following a cold that turned into pneumonia. His health condition worsened, and he was transferred to a hospital in Ohio. It was later revealed that he had suffered a heart attack.

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