He’s not well known outside of Latin America, but in Mexico and farther south, he might as well have been Robin Williams, Elvis, and Mickey Mouse all rolled into one. Here’s a look back at the legendary comedian, who died last week at age 85.
You might not be familiar with Roberto Gómez Bolaños, who went by the stage name “Chespirito,” but you’ve certainly seen some of the comedy bits he inspired. One of the Mexico City natives most popular characters was “El Chapulín Colorado,” a bumbling superhero who dressed up like a grasshopper. Matt Groening based “Bumblebee Man” on The Simpsons, an actor/character who appears on a Springfield Spanish-language TV station, on Chespirito’s character after seeing him on TV one night while staying in a motel on the Mexican border.
Chespirito’s other most beloved character was “El Chavo,” a young orphan featured in a series of sketches and, eventually, an incredibly popular sitcom of the same name. He was well into middle age when he began playing the little boy, but audiences didn’t care. At the height of its popularity in the mid-1970s, an average episode of El Chavo del Ocho could draw more than 350 million viewers across Mexico, Central America, and South America. To put that into perspective, the most watched TV event in U.S. history, Super Bowl XLVIII, drew 111 million.
Bolaños career began when he tired of a career as an amateur boxer in the 1940s. After a brief attempt at engineering, he became a playwright and a screenwriter for fire for various movies and TV shows in Mexico. He was so prolific that a producer nicknamed him “Shakespearito.” Said quickly in certain accents, it sounded more like “Chespirito,” and the name stuck.
The comedian eventually landed a gig on a children’s show before diving into the world of sketch comedy in the late ‘60s. In 1973, he had two show simultaneously, El Chavo del Ocho, and El Chapulin Colorado. In the way that Friends or Seinfeld are still seen in reruns on channels in every city in the U.S. a decade after their cancellations, Chespirito’s shows were syndicated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, making him a household name. Both ceased production in the ‘80s, and the comedian turned to Chespirito, a long-running sketch comedy show.
Chespirito was so loved and held in such his esteem that his funeral was held in Estadio Azteca, a soccer stadium in the suburbs of Mexico City. It was attended by more than 40,000 fans, with hundreds of them arriving in costume as El Chapulín Colorado.