Roberto Gomez Bolaños, the iconic Mexican comedian who defined a generation with his beloved “Chavo del Ocho” and other memorable characters, has died.
The Televisa television network announced the death on Friday afternoon. He was 85.
Chespirito’s “Chavo,” a freckled and mischievous orphan who lived in a barrel, made his way to the homes of Latin America and beyond with his striped shirt, frayed cap and his endless fights and misunderstandings with Don Ramon, Quico, la Chilindrina, Doña Florinda – both played by Florinda Meza, who later became his wife – la Bruja del 71 and many more characters that so benignly portrayed Mexico’s working class of the late 70s and 80s.
Immensely famous throughout the continent was also his the naive superhero “El Chapulin Colorado,” or “The Crimson Grasshopper.”
Chespirito warmed the hearts of millions with a clean comedy style far removed from the sexual innuendo and obscenity-laced jokes popular today. In a career that started in the 1950s, he wrote hundreds of television episodes, 20 films and theater productions that drew record-breaking audiences.
It is said he took his inspiration from Laurel and Hardy as well as Mexico’s other transcendent comedian who eventually made it to Hollywood, Cantinflas.
His prolific output earned him the nickname “Chespirito.” It came from the Spanish phonetic pronunciation of Shakespeare — “Chespir” — combined with “ito,” a diminutive commonly used in Mexico that seemed natural for Gomez Bolaños because of his short stature.
“Nicknames are the most essential in life, more valuable than names,” the actor said in 2011.
Soon after the death was announced, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted, “Mexico has lost an icon whose work has transcended generations and borders.”
Born Feb. 21, 1929, he trained as an engineer, but he was dedicated to writing from a young age.
Talented both on the screen and behind it, he achieved smashing success in 1970 with the creation of “Chespirito,” a television show that included segments about “The Crimson Grasshopper.”
The goofy superhero dressed in a red bodysuit and hood with antennae that helped him detect danger miles away. He completed the outfit with yellow shorts and boots, giving him the look of a red bumblebee. The character, whose superpowers included shrinking to the size of a pill and dodging enemies, constantly repeated his signature phrases, “You didn’t count on my cleverness” and “All the good people, follow me.”
In 1971, Gomez Bolaños wrote and acted as “El Chavo del Ocho” (“The Boy from the Eight”), a reference to the channel that broadcast the show.
“El Chavo” proved so popular that reruns are still shown in multiple countries in Latin American and on Spanish language television in the United States. Many Latin Americans, living under dictatorships during the height of the show, found his underdog triumphs heroic in the face of authority.
In a 2005 interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Gomez Bolaños said he always wrote with working class people in mind.
“There are writers who pour out words, concepts that sound really important but that basically say nothing,” he said. “I always tried to be as concise as possible, all to try and reach everyone, but especially the simple people, those who needed to be reached more than anyone else.”
He also delved successfully in theater for adults. In 1992 he produced, directed and acted in “11 and 12,” the story of a man who loses his genitals in an accident and wants to impregnate his wife. The play set a record in Mexico, surpassing 3,200 performances.
Proof of his wide popularity came when he opened a Twitter account in 2011 with a simple message: “Hello. I’m Chespirito. I’m 82-years-old and this is the first time I tweet. This is my debut. All the good people, follow me!”
In less than two months, he had 1 million followers. By the time of his death, there were 6.6 million.
Gomez Bolaños is survived by his second wife, actress Florinda Meza, as well as six children from his first marriage and 12 grandchildren.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.