Mexican actor and screenwriter Roberto Gomez Bolanos, one of Latin America’s most beloved comedians, whose slapstick acts charmed fans from Spain to Argentina for over four decades, died on Friday at the age 85.
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Broadcaster Televisa, for whom Gomez Bolanos worked for much of his career, said he died at home in the seaside resort of Cancun. Known as “Chespirito,” a word play on ‘Little Shakespeare’ for his diminutive stature and his prolific scripts, Gomez Bolanos created some of the region’s most enduring comic characters.
His show “El Chavo del Ocho,” about a naive kid from a poor neighborhood who hid inside a barrel, is widely viewed as the catalyst that helped transform Televisa into a major international company.
Gomez Bolanos was also known for his character “El Chapulin Colorado” (The Red Grasshopper), a clumsy hero in a red overall and yellow trunks which inspired Bumblebee Man, the Spanish-speaking character from the American animated sitcom The Simpsons.
The comedian stopped recording material in the 1980s, but his shows are still aired regularly today.
On Twitter, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto lamented the death of an “icon whose work transcended generations and borders.”
As a young man, Gomez Bolanos dreamed of being an engineer, and fell into comic acting by accident. He was writing show scripts for Televisa, and had to stand in when the actor playing one of the characters he had written did not show, he once told Reuters.
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Coining catchphrases that made their way into the lexicon of many countries across Latin America, Chespirito’s shows were exported to 90 countries and translated into dozens of languages, from Japanese to Portuguese. Critics panned Chespirito, saying his sketches were repetitive, promoted the misuse of language and encouraged bullying – the obese child in one of his shows was constantly taunted and harassed for his girth. Chespirito, an avid soccer enthusiast, also made several movies and acted in a number of plays. His live shows filled stadiums. Despite his age, Chespirito kept in contact with his fans. In May 2011 he joined Twitter, becoming an instant hit. He had 6.61 million followers by the time of his death.
(Reporting By Cyntia Barrera Diaz; Editing by Simon Gardner and Jonathan Oatis)