CANCUN, Mexico — To the world, he was known as “Chespirito.” Roberto Gomez Bolanos gained fame as a comedian, but he was also a writer, actor, screenwriter, songwriter, film director and TV producer.
The legendary entertainer died Friday at the age of 85 at his home in Cancun, Mexico. A native of Mexico City, Gomez Bolanos had been living in the resort town for the last few years due to health problems.
He leaves behind his wife, Florinda Meza, also an actress and comedian, and six children from a previous marriage.
Gomez Bolanos’ death was confirmed by Televisa, the Mexican media conglomerate where he spent most of a career that spanned more than four decades, mainly on television.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto expressed his condolences. “Mexico has lost an icon whose work has transcended generations and borders,” the President said on his Twitter account.
According to his official biography, Gomez Bolanos got his nickname from a film director who, after reading something he’d written, dubbed him “a little Shakespeare.” The term was later adapted to the more Spanish-friendly Chespirito. The fact that he was only 5 feet 2 inches tall (1.6 meters) reinforced the nickname.
Fellow actor and comedian Edgar Vivar called Gomez Bolanos “the best writer of Spanish-language television.”
Vivar, who played several Chespirito’s characters, said that part of Gomez Bolanos’ genius was “that he wrote (TV shows) based on the individual actor’s or actress’ acting ability,” which allowed for better and funnier comedy situations.
His son Roberto Gomez Fernandez, also a TV producer, said his father had “an extraordinary knowledge of human nature in many respects,” which allowed his TV shows to be translated into multiple languages without losing their comedic impact.
“His ultimate intention was to entertain audiences in a wholesome way,” Gomez Fernandez said of his father, who never used profanity or situations not appropriate for children on his shows or movies.
Gomez Bolanos was born in 1929. According to his official biography, his father was a painter, sketch artist and newspaper illustrator. Though trained as an engineer, Chespirito never worked as one, choosing instead to write for TV and radio shows and screenplays starting in the mid-1950s.
By 1968, Gomez Bolanos was already writing for his own show, and by 1971, he had developed two of his most famous TV characters.
In “El Chapulin Colorado” (“The Red Grasshopper”), Chespirito dressed in a red bodysuit and wore vinyl antennae. A parody of superheroes like Batman and Superman, the Red Grasshopper had certain powers, like the ability to shrink.
“El Chavo del Ocho” (“The Boy from Number Eight”) was an orphan boy from a working-class Mexico City neighborhood.
By 1973, both TV series were popular throughout Latin America.
“While the parents of my friends went to work building houses or to hospitals or attorneys’ offices, my dad would dress in all red, wore antennae and went to work,” Gomez Fernandez said. “It was kind of normal to me. As I grew up, I started to realize how relevant his work was.”
Televisa said Chespirito’s TV shows “were watched in Mexico, just like they were watched in Brazil, Thailand or Russia.” According to Televisa, “El Chavo del Ocho” has been dubbed into 50 languages.
Chespirito’s last show was produced in 1995, but his catchphrases and sayings continue to be part of Mexican culture. El Chapulin Colorado has also been profiled in the American TV series “The Simpsons.”
His first message on Twitter on May 28, 2011, was “siganme los buenos,” or “follow me, those of you who are good,” a phrase that he constantly used on his shows and that many people still use in Mexico and elsewhere.