LATINO VOICES
11/28/2014 05:12 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2014

Roberto Gómez Bolaños, Better Known As Chespirito, Dead At 85

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Roberto Gómez Bolaños -- better known among his fans as “Chespirito” -- died on Friday in Cancún, the Mexican news media reports. He was 85.

Mexican broadcaster Televisa, for whom Gómez Bolaños worked, first reported the news. The cause of death had yet to be disclosed at the time of writing.

UPDATE: 11/29/14, 2:03 a.m. -- Univision reports Bolaños suffered a cardiac arrest around 2 p.m. in his home. The star died accompanied by his wife and former co-star Florinda Meza.

A writer, actor and producer for television, film and theater, Gómez Bolaños was perhaps best known as the star of “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulín Colorado” -- television shows broadcasted across Latin America. Aimed at children yet enjoyed by adults, the shows earned a status across the region’s pop culture something akin to “The Simpsons” in the United States.

The cultural comparison, however, doesn’t capture how overwhelmingly popular Gómez Bolaños’ creation became. More than 111 million viewers continue to tune into “El Chavo del Ocho,” which first aired in 1971, on a daily basis. That figure that tops the number of viewers who watched the Super Bowl in 2013 -- let alone the 33.6 million viewers “The Simpsons” reeled in at its peak in 1990.

Born in Mexico City on Feb. 21, 1929, Gómez Bolaños originally studied engineering. But instead he launched an entertainment career when he answered a newspaper ad announcing a television and radio apprenticeship at an advertising agency, according to The Associated Press.

More from The Associated Press:

His two most famous characters were "El Chavo del Ocho," who lived in the homes of Latin America and beyond with his barrel, freckles, striped shirt and frayed cap, and the naive superhero "El Chapulin Colorado," or "The Crimson Grasshopper." His morning show was a staple for preschoolers, much like "Captain Kangaroo" in the United States.

He 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.

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 Bolanos because of his short stature.

"Nicknames are the most essential in life, more valuable than names," the actor said in 2011.

...

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 Bolanos 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 Bolano 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 Bolanos is survived by his second wife, actress Florinda Meza, as well as six children from his first marriage and 12 grandchildren.

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