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The Liberace of Psychics

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Beyond the Horizon By Walter Mercado
Warner Books; $20 cloth

TV's Walter Mercado makes a fortune reading people's fortunes

By John Sanchez

MILLIONS THROUGHOUT the U.S. and Latin America have made Puerto Rico's Walter Mercado the leading psychic on TV. Even though he has yet to broadcast in English after more than 25 years on the tube, he commands a legion of fans, some of whom don't understand a word he says.

Mercado began his TV career not as a psychic but as an actor. According to legend, he stumbled upon his lucrative fortune-telling gig while shooting a commercial. A talk-show host suddenly in need of one more guest begged Mercado--dressed in a gown for the commercial--to come on and talk about astrology. Since then, Mercado has become a mainstay on Spanish-language TV with his own shows--Walter and the Stars and The Walter Mercado Show--and countless guest appearances. More and more, he can be found popping up on English-language talk shows such as Live With Regis & Kathie Lee and Vibe.

There's something about Mercado's shows that can stop even the most jaded channel surfers in their tracks. Seated on a throne, all dolled-up in shimmering robes, heavy makeup and an upswept blond hairdo sort of like the one Joan Rivers sports, Mercado speaks into the camera in portentous tones. He gestures as if he's prophesying the end of the world, though all he's really doing is reading horoscopes, sometimes with images of enormous swimming fish projected behind him.

The performer Mercado is most often compared to is Liberace. The jury's still out on whether the pianist was a subversive sissy presence on the pre-Ellen entertainment scene or a creepy, hypocritical closet queen. Of course, in Liberace's day, "coming out" would have meant career suicide. These days, a man can no longer go on TV in glittering capes and a pound of foundation and expect viewers not to jump to one particular conclusion. Mercado may not be out-and-proud, but you could hardly argue that he's closeted either.

In a marketplace increasingly hungry for both goofy glamour and metaphysical insight, the time seems right for Mercado to conquer the English-language market, but his first cross-over attempt--the book Beyond the Horizon, which came out last year and is in the midst of a second promotional push--downplays the very flamboyance that makes him a marketer's dream come true.

A lucid reiteration of common New Age ideas about life in the coming millennium, Beyond the Horizon takes as its premise the belief that we're now in a painful transitional period between the Ages of Pisces and Aquarius. While the Age of Pisces was marked by selfishness and war, the Age of Aquarius will bring peace, honesty, the development of new psychic abilities and even contact with beings on other planets.

Combining familiar occult authorities such as Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce with a far-reaching patchwork of scientific, cultural and historical sources, Beyond the Horizon would make a useful introductory text for those same seekers who made a bestseller out of The Celestine Prophecy. Solidly written and admirably respectful of its popular audience's intelligence, it succeeds on its own terms but disappoints in bearing little of Mercado's distinctive touch.

THE AGE OF AQUARIUS can't compete with the here-and-now mystery that is Walter Mercado. Unfortunately, there's little personal content in Beyond the Horizon. Though it seems gravely wrong for a book by this author not to include a photo section, we only see him twice: in a rather subdued cover shot and on the back page's plug for his psychic hot line.

The few personal anecdotes Mercado includes mostly deal with his childhood in Puerto Rico, where he was known as Walter of Miracles, "the child who could see into people's pasts and futures, who knew the causes of their illnesses and the way to their cures."

He writes, "I at first didn't realize that I was different," without telling how and when he found out. Elsewhere, he devotes just two paragraphs to his intriguing relationship with his spirit guide, an "asexual being of light" who first appeared to him in 1975 to tell him "that it was my mission to use my powers to help guide others through this very difficult time in which we live."

Most of the autobiographical content here is between the lines, including a possible explanation of his look. "The Aquarian Age will be a time for men and women to come together as one, to think of themselves as human beings, not as men or women," Mercado writes. "It is a time of integration, a time to join both of those energies within us--the yin and the yang." Maybe all this time he's been not some kind of gender outlaw but just fashion-forward.

Clothes clearly preoccupy him. It's a subject he keeps returning to, frequently advising us not to let old Age of Pisces concerns like fear of disapproval dictate our choice of dress: "Why should you want to wear the clothes that everyone else is wearing if you don't like the way they look on you? Why should you always hide your face behind makeup and lipstick?" (Not one to throw stones in a glass house, he continues, "When you want to, go ahead.")

He writes rather movingly about the Aquarian outlook for "true love, total love, that is neither limited by traditions nor restricted by conventions," but which apparently still doesn't dare speak its name.

As his asexual being of light says, Mercado can be a guide to us in these difficult times, but in more concrete, hands-on ways than he's attempted in his book. Simply by appearing on TV, his beautiful, bizarre image--and improbable success--teaches by example the joy and rewards of embracing your individuality in ways all the words in Beyond the Horizon cannot. For now, however, Mercado has hidden his unique, talented self behind words and facts, and as he knows, that's just not right for the Age of Aquarius.

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From the February 26-March 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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